Achieving Tangible Results in a Virtual World

This is the first time I’ve ever conducted research at such a professional level and on an independent topic, so I definitely gained a whole new perspective on interdisciplinary research and the research process in general. My biggest takeaway is that I never realized how much work is required in the early stages of the process before a single piece of data is even collected. In the past, I was always on the receiving end of the conclusions of research studies, so never truly saw all of the work that goes into not only choosing an area of focus, but deciding what angle to take in answering the question, and the best way to collect data. Additionally, I never appreciated how much time it takes to review the literature at the beginning of such a project. Throughout my review of the literature, I realized that having a topic that hasn’t been looked at to a large extent in the past has its pros and cons. While there wasn’t as much for me to read through on the Glass Cliff specifically, I soon realized I would need to read all about unconscious biases as well to fully understand my topic, as well as how people attribute traits to people differently based on their gender. I discovered quickly that beginning to delve into any topic could lead to an endless cycle of finding related studies, topics, and subjects that the researcher could benefit from learning more about. Luckily, with the help of my mentor, I was able to organize my research in a way that limited the scope of what I needed to learn about before designing my own study. This opened my eyes to how much planning and reading is required when conducting research of any kind, and how no subject matter is studied in total isolation. Another part of this project that came as a surprise was how one single topic can lead to a plethora of potential questions to be answered, and the importance of honing in on just one to research the answer to. For example, the Glass Cliff literature contains some ideas of the root causes of the phenomenon, but the majority of the studies suggest deeper research into its cause. At first, I thought my research could be focused on finding the cause of the Glass Cliff, but because there are so many potential causes, it would be nearly impossible to deeply study every potential cause in one project. I spent a lot of time determining what I thought the root cause may be and will be using an interview-style setup to determine if my hypothesis is correct as a result; this again has given me so much respect for the hard work researchers must do in the early stages of a project, especially those which haven’t been studied much in the past. Overall, this project has helped me better understand the research process, as well as shown me first hand how much more overlap exists between various areas of study and in unexpected ways. 

Early on in my research, my mentor Audrey Murrell sent me a project a student did a few years ago that involved interviewing female Pitt alumni and creating podcasts recording their conversations. I really liked the idea of incorporating interviews with alumni into my research process, but it wasn’t until recently that I was able to determine exactly how I will be utilizing interviews to answer my research question. Although I have yet to reach out to the alumni, luckily I will easily be able to find their contact information through Clare Stitch, who has been working closely with Audrey and I and manages the alumni relations network for Pitt Honors. She will be able to provide me with the names of Pitt alum with various backgrounds, experiences, and who are at different points in their careers so that I can reach out to them and schedule interviews. I plan to email the alumni first to explain who I am, briefly explain what my research is on, and set up zoom calls where I will record our conversations to help me better understand how people react to Glass Cliff scenarios. As far as communicating with Audrey, we both have a lot of interest and some background knowledge in women’s rights, unconscious gender bias, and the Glass Cliff; thus, communicating our ideas to each other via zoom meetings has gone very smoothly and led to efficient progress. We also keep each other updated via emails once a week or every two weeks, which has helped me to stay on track. 

I think the past several months have shown how important soft skills are. In a virtual environment, communication is essential and this is the first project I’ve ever done where there was absolutely no in-person communication. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom to have meetings very similar to an in-person one, and have definitely gotten better at carrying on conversations via Zoom without constant interruptions or breaks of silence. Going forward, being able to have good phone/  video chat conversations is going to become increasingly more important; not only is it unclear how long in-person contact will be impossible but after the pandemic, many companies are predicted to continue offering more flexibility as far as working from home and more heavily utilizing technologies like zoom and skype for interviews and meetings. In addition, I have become much better at writing concise emails and knowing how often to update my research mentor. I’ve had experience with writing professional emails before, but I’ve never worked closely with someone who is an experienced professional on a project. It was a little overwhelming at first for me to present my ideas and opinions to someone with so much more experience than me, but Audrey always listens to my ideas and offers her own input, which made me feel respected and like I had ownership of my research. I have become so much more comfortable communicating my ideas with adult professionals in general throughout this process, and have actually recently been complimented on my phone skills. I knew I would be learning a lot about the Glass Cliff over the summer, but I couldn’t have imagined how much professional development would take place along the way. 

The hardest part about beginning this project was getting used to reading so much literature. I’ve read research studies before, but never so many from start to finish, and never so many on the same topic. It was definitely a learning curve for me figuring out the best way to organize my notes, summarize studies in a way that was concise but didn’t exclude important details, and to keep track of which studies I had already read and which ones I hadn’t. I also learned how to better utilize the search functions on platforms such as JSATOR, Pittcat, and Google Scholar. Additionally, I learned a lot of terminologies that I was unfamiliar with, such as meta-analysis and chi-squared tests, along with many other statistical tests and terms. I figured out a system that worked for me where I kept various folders on my desktop with pdfs of the studies, organized by topic, and kept a large google doc with the abstract listed for each study, as well as some of my own thoughts and ideas. As this is my first research project, the most important skill I learned has been understanding the research process itself, and the way research papers are organized. Going forward, I will be able to start off research projects with these skills from the start, which will make the process much more efficient. 

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