It’s been a week since the Community Research Fellowship ended; with the free time, I’ve been able to reflect upon my experiences and consider the things I loved, wished I did differently, and improved upon since May.
My ultimate takeaway from this fellowship is how valuable community engagement is to working effectively as a researcher. Community organizations have the resources and staff to act on research findings. I initially believed that my presentations to community organizations would appeal to general curiosity about my research questions; however, when delivering these presentations, I learned how my research findings would aid these partners in their short-term and long-term goals. For example, in my presentation to the Humane Animal Rescue, I discussed how valuable Ellie’s Pet Pantry is especially to low-income pet owners. Following this presentation, the organization said they would love a document that can be utilized in grant requests with quotes from my interviewees about how helpful shelter resources are. My research helps provide community partners with insight to go forward and improve their services. In turn, my research purposes are directed by community partners as the target audience in mind.
This summer, I love how I was able to devote more time to this project than I would have over the school year. The research went at my own pace: though I value how independent and self-directed this project was, I enjoyed corresponding with community partners to see how important this research is to people beyond just a select few.
The most challenging part of the project was the interview process. Finding interviewees was difficult. Sometimes I would reach out to a handful of people, and only a couple would respond. Other times, I may set up an interview time but would be left waiting for the interviewee to respond to my calls. However, with qualitative research, getting dozens of interviewees isn’t as important as conducting in-depth interviews with a lesser amount. Interviews can stop upon reaching saturation or not hearing any new information. I reached saturation at nine interviews. I interviewed nine individuals of different ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses. Though there were differences between myself and these interviewees, what was of utmost importance was making these subjects feel understood by maintaining a conversational tone and expressing genuine interest. Yet, I also had to ensure that I asked questions I needed answers to.
Eventually, I had to accept that no interviewee is perfect: interviewees can leave details out, ramble, and may even express disinterest. Only a couple of interviews went the way I wanted them to. Several interviews ended much sooner than I expected. But, I learned to find value in whatever information I got. Often, when I analyze transcripts for seemingly challenging interviews, I come across powerful quotes that support overarching themes.
Over the upcoming school year, I hope to continue working with Dr. Rauktis to explore trends in pet acquisition during the pandemic and socioeconomic status. Given the time constraints over the summer, I identified general themes from my interviews such as motivations for adopting, challenges with pets, preferences for a particular dog, etc. I shared these themes with community organizations and wrote about them in depth for a blog post with the Latham Foundation. But, I would like to explore whether age, race, income, etc affects the pet a person adopts, the challenges they may face, and their overall pandemic experience.
Wherever this product leads me, I will ensure that my work is benefiting the community by collaborating directly with its representatives as, at its core, community-based research is driven by community priorities.