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Observing and Interviewing: Negotiating Faculty Spaces as a Graduate Research Assistant

By: Published: 2017 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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In January 2014, I began working as an evaluator on an education reform project being implemented by faculty in science and engineering departments at my university. The core goals of the project were for participating faculty members to improve students’ learning, engagement, and recruitment and retention in selected introductory-level courses offered by the science and engineering departments. As a member of the project’s evaluation team, a significant part of my work was to examine faculty members’ processes for carrying out the project by observing their weekly or biweekly planning meetings and interviewing faculty members to gain a more in-depth understanding of these implementation processes.

In this methods case, I will discuss issues that arose as I observed faculty planning meetings and interviewed faculty members. I will specifically conceptualize these issues as related to my position as a graduate student researcher, studying the work of lecturers and professors who were all post-PhD. At times, this difference in position meant that I had to navigate uncomfortable spaces in my efforts to accurately examine, understand, and describe faculty members’ work. This methods case illuminates important issues students must consider when engaging in research and evaluation which focus on the work of faculty in higher education and suggests ways students may consider negotiating these spaces.

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