Research Step Four: Overcoming Obstacles

Hello lovely readers,

Over the past month we have talked about quite a bit of the research process! At this point, our project has metaphorically been accepted by the IRB, and we are ready to proceed with our research. For this post, I’m going to talk about overcoming general obstacles throughout your research.

Possibly the best way for me to share how to recognize and overcome obstacles is to share my own. When I began my research, it was already a challenge deciding on my population. Originally, I wanted to work with nursing home residents, but then I recognized that it would be incredibly hard to gain informed consent. From there I decided I had a better chance at working with assisted-living residents, because generally they are moving, cognitive and independent.

While I was working on getting IRB approval, I began calling assisted-living facilities in Knoxville to gain permission to do my research at the facilities. I probably called ten places, at least three never got back to me, three flat-out said no, and that left me with four options. For the next two months, I consistently called and emailed these facilitates, and by around April I had a facility that said yes. From there, I had to get written approval that I could do my research there, so I received a polite email from the activities coordinator giving me permission. I was so relieved to not have to make any more calls or badger any more people that I let the issue slide for around a month. At the beginning of May, the IRB told me I had to have permission from the director of the facility as well. I emailed him, and when he got back to me I was floored. Apparently, the activities coordinator that had given me permission had found another job, and he told me she had no authority to have given me permission to do research there, and furthermore he told me I could not do my research there.

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Being desperate, I emailed him basically begging that we sort something out. He agreed to meet with me, so a week later my advisor and I went to Knoxville and met with the director of the facility. I presented all my paperwork, forms I had developed, and my research goals. He was very understanding, and told me he would contact his superiors to get permission. Later that week, I got written permission to do the research, with stipulations. I was not allowed in any residents rooms, and I had to be supervised. I was so OK with this!

I am telling you guys this long crazy story because I can’t predict what might go awry in your research, but I can encourage you to overcome it. As long as you maintain of level of professionalism and genuineness, you will be able to get your research on track. Next week, we will talk about getting out there and conducting research! If you have any questions or concerns, please comment below.

Research Step Three: IRB Application

Hello readers!

So far in the past two weeks we have talked about finding your purpose and choosing your topic for your research project. Today, I would like to walk your through how to do an IRB application. Every University will have an IRB Board, which is a panel of judges that will assess your research project. You must get the approval of the IRB before starting your project. This ensures that everything is legal and safe for both you and your project participants. Because the application can be a little daunting, I’m going to upload an example of a blank application will all of my comments on how to fill one out. So here it is:

IRB Application Guide

IRB

With all of my comments and directions in mind, I would still recommend taking your application to your research adviser with any questions or issues you may have. Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments below!

Research Step Two: Topic Selection

Ok friends, let us recap here. In my last post I discussed the first step to the research process, which is finding your purpose. Now, with a fuel behind our fire we are ready to move on to the second step! The second step of research is, of course, picking your topic. To be honest, I don’t have any mystical guru magic to help you pick your topic, but I will inform you of my own personal process.

I picked my topic about a year ago, and that is really hard to believe. Looking back, from start to finish, my project has taken me a year to complete. So here I was a year ago, with a senior thesis and a grant application awaiting me, and I had to pick what I was going to do. The first thing I did was come up with a few ideas which I was interested in researching. I think that the best way to think of ideas is to find a question that you would like to have an answer for. That is what research really is: having a question and putting in the time and effort to get an answer.

imagesWhen coming up with my ideas I knew I wanted to study something associated with the elderly (gerontology minor, duh!), so I came up with a list of ideas that looked something like this:

  • Study whether giving residents in nursing homes a pet/plant would lower depression.
  • Do a meta-analysis on the percentage of people that pass away within a few months of entering a nursing home.
  • Study whether playing music to residents in a nursing home would lower their depression.

So as you can see, a common theme was lowering depression, and I had also thrown in the meta-analysis because I thought that looking at the percentages would be interesting. A meta-analysis is when a research compares and contrasts results from several different studies and look for patterns within those studies.

I took my list of ideas to my advisor, and she helped me to narrow down my project. We talked about each idea in length, and eventually picked the most doable/interesting. We ruled out the meta-analysis almost immediately because, though I could have done it, it was the least fun and interactive. Next, we ruled out the pet/plant idea because there would be too many other factors to consider (such as the residents state of living, dementia, etc.) and we decided the study would not yield accurate results. That left us with my music-listening project!

As you can see, picking my topic was a process of thinking about what I was interested in, and then consulting my advisor on what was practical. No matter what you are studying, the process for topic selection should be very similar. Next week I will discuss general obstacles in the beginning of a project, including the dreaded IRB application process. Feel free to comment below on how you chose your research topic!

 

Research Step One: Finding Your Purpose

Believe it or not, sitting down at a computer and putting my thoughts on paper can sometimes feel like the monster in the closet that every five year old is afraid of. Despite the fact that I love to write, and that I generally feel like I am good at it, it is the time in between gathering my thoughts and actually typing them out that beats me up. I dread having to sit down at the computer and put in the work. It may be due to laziness, or fear of getting it wrong, but at the end of the day I’m never excited to write something until I’m actually finished with it.

I share this because I’m about to embark on a series about the research process, and the past six months of work that I have put into my senior research project have been the most terrifying, and exciting, moments of my college coursework. In the next few posts, I will be discussing how to apply, conduct, and present research. I will share my personal experiences of my research and also try to inform my readers how to do everything from start to finish. So we begin!

While most people might think that the first step to beginning a research project is picking a topic, I am here to disagree. I believe the first step to starting any serious research is to find a purpose. Having a purpose for your research will guide you in finding a topic, deciding on a timeline, working with a budget, and generally giving you momentum throughout the project. For me, my project actually had more than one purpose.

First, as a senior in the psychology program at LMU, I am required to conduct a research project, write a paper on it, and later present my work at an academic conference. While I have been really excited for this since I entered the program, a more pressing force led me to my second purpose. My first half of my junior year, it became clear to me that I would need to supplement my income in order to be able to complete my summer internship and still have money to survive. In the middle of searching for part-time jobs, my advisor happened to send me a link to the Appalachian College Association Colonel B. Ledford Scholarship Application. It seemed absolutely perfect! The Ledford Scholarship is a program that pays students to conduct a summer research project of their own making, and then later present at the ACA Annual Summit, where research is presented. I spent the next three months working on a personal statement, a project budget, and an introduction to my research that also explained what I would like to gain from doing it. Last February I was awarded the scholarship and from there my project had purpose.

Keep in mind, anything can give a project purpose. It could be a school requirement, a scholarship, a need to share your ideas, or even just a sincere interest in a topic. Ideally, it will be a combination of all of those elements that will lead you to start with questions, and end with a new found answer. Find a purpose and let it fuel you, because I can attest that as gratifying as my research has been, it also requires dedication and commitment.

For this series, I will be posting every week, so stay tuned for next Tuesday when I will discuss picking a topic! Any questions? Feel free to comment below or send me an email!

Baby Come Back! You Can Blame It All On Me…

I’m sitting at my computer, thinking about how to communicate how I am feeling. It’s difficult because the past few months have been one of those times in life where you look back, and you’re not really sure how time could move so fast and how you could have moved so slowly. First, to all of my readers, I want to give you a heartfelt apology. My life got crazy, and I neglected writing because in my mind I was only disappointing myself. After sitting down and looking at a piece of paper with stats that showed me that people truly do care about my life and my words, I am newly committed to writing consistently and honestly. I never truly thought before now that what I sent out into the world was being read by anyone other than my dad, but knowing that there are people that enjoy reading my posts gives me the inspiration that I had lost.

So let us talk about what life has brought me this past summer! I stopped posting somewhere near the middle of April, and as you can imagine, the end of year brought the struggle of finals. Then, I moved to Knoxville at the beginning of the summer and moved in with my new, shiny fiancé! He proposed on Easter Sunday, April 20th, and I can tell you at the moment of my writing this there are 477 days, 10 hours, 18 minutes, and 39 seconds until I say “I do”  to my best friend. By the time we moved in together, I had already missed a couple of posts and it was easy to let the obligation slip my mind. Jared and I spent the next month figuring out what it meant to pay bills, eat off 75$ for two weeks, and spend quality time together. We felt the struggle of losing major income, Jared struggling to find a job, sorting out who got what chores, and much more. We also got to enjoy movie nights, cooking our favorite meals together, hanging out with friends and family, and living life side by side. There were definitely fights and struggles. There was also laughter and love. This summer was probably the best thing that could’ve happened in our relationship, because now we know what the real world feels like and that we can get through it together.

Yay!

Meanwhile, I embarked on an adventure! This summer I had three jobs, and they all had special challenges to go along with them. I discussed them in my post “She Works Hard for the Money,” but actually doing them was a unique experience. Monday through Friday, I worked 8am-12pm at my internship at the Parkwest Senior Behavioral Unit, and 1pm-6pm at the local daycare. I absolutely loved my time at Parkwest. The unit, which consisted of 16 acute-care beds, treated seniors with a variety of psychiatric and behavioral problems. There I learned how to do one-on-one therapy, communicate with families, and what it means to work in a hospital setting. This internship has also inspired me to pursue a career in social work! I am hoping to be admitted to the UT Masters of Science in Social Work program, and I will be applying for that later this semester. At the daycare I learned to work in the new after school room, which consisted of 5-11 year olds. Let me tell you: angry eight year-olds is a whole different ballgame than preschoolers, and I definitely developed as a daycare teacher this summer. This year, when I left, I felt like I had truly done good work.  By the time I got home every day, I had worked ten hours and was absolutely exhausted. Jared typically took pity on me and cooked dinner, and for that please give him a round of applause.

My third job was my summer research. Every Sunday I went to a local assisted living facility and conducted research that focused on music listening. Special challenges that came with this project included jumping through all of the legal hoops involved with working with the elderly, accommodating hearing disabilities, encouraging subjects to participate, and much, much more. As of last week, I am officially done with data collection! My next step is to analyze my data and begin constructing my poster presentation for the Appalachian College Association Summit in October. I am super nervous and excited to present my work for the Summit, but I have so much to do beforehand! Look out for an upcoming series by me highlighting the research process from start to finish. From applying for a grant, to getting IRB approval, to data collection and analysis, and even presentation; I am excited to share with my readers both my project and what a general research project entails.

So this summer had been the best and most challenging part of my life thus far. I don’t consider it an excuse for not writing, but at the end of the day my priorities were so focused on my work, my family and my relationship that it felt like there was room for nothing else. Here is to a new start! Feel free to comment below on what you did this summer!

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