Five Strategies to Help Undergraduate Students Prepare to Conduct their First Qualitative Interview
In “Teaching Qualitative Research Interview Skills” (2018), Stephanie Hoover and colleagues describe the unevenness of qualitative methods training in undergraduate programs. Despite this unevenness, the extant literature provides a rich trove of articles about instruction in qualitative methods. When we became undergraduate research assistants in the Advanced Qualitative Research Lab, we had the opportunity to read this literature and practice mock interviews as part of my training. Yet, one thing that articles and training procedures constantly overlook is the nervousness and anxiety that we, as undergraduate student interviewers, experience prior to conducting their first interview. In this blog post, we want to highlight what was helpful for us when we first started out.
We are working on a project that focuses on the behavioral health screening experiences of adolescents during their primary care well-check visit. Our goal is to understand and hopefully improve the experience of those screenings (see an overview of the project here). We came into the project after some data had already been collected, and spent the first year analyzing the data. Yet, we still wanted to collect more data given the diversity of experiences. We soon discovered that collecting data is a whole different ball game when it comes to qualitative research. For example, we now had several practical issues to consider, such as recruiting, calling, and scheduling participants. After months of trying, we finally scheduled our first interview! Despite this excitement, nervousness set in. We decided to do the first interview as a group. This helped to reduce the pressure around probing for in-depth information, and it just made the whole experience seem more like a conversation rather than a formal interview. Another strategy that helped with preparation was having an opportunity to have been involved in data analysis. Thoroughly coding each interview helped us to feel prepared and ready to talk to the participant.
However, something you can’t quite get from reading transcripts is the emotion that participants may be feeling. We never really thought of the questions in the interview guide as “triggering” or particularly difficult to discuss. I think that after spending so much time with the data, we became a little numb to what we were discussing, which included difficult topics about mental health, sexual activity, and alcohol/drug use. Although we were not asking participants about their direct experience with those topics, and rather focused on how they felt being asked those questions by their healthcare provider, it was humbling to slow down and remember the people behind the data. We also learned that is important to ask why participants think or feel a particular way. As an interviewer, we can sometimes get so overwhelmed with the number of questions we want to ask and forget about what we are really interested in. With the first interview under my belt, this is something we hope to improve on in subsequent sessions.
Overall, our team agreed that the first qualitative interview was a success. For other undergraduate students, here are 5 strategies we recommend when preparing for that first qualitative interview:
1. Be familiar with all documents and procedures before the interview so things flow smoothly.
2. Record yourself doing a mock interview with a partner and listen to it. This way you can detect mistakes and change them accordingly.
3. To help with nerves during the first few interviews, do them in pairs. This allows for your partner to jump in, in case something is missing or could be asked more effectively.
-To help ease personal jitters, put something small in your hands like a paperclip to keep your hands busy and mind off of your nerves.
4. Keep the best interest of the participant in mind. Be aware of their tone and body language to make sure they are comfortable throughout the process. Slow down if they need it.
5. Remind yourself that you are prepared!
Isabel Cesani, Amanda Ladd and Kate Gist
Hoover, S. M., Strapp, C. M., Ito, A., Foster, K., & Roth, K. (2018). Teaching qualitative research interviewer skills: A developmental framework for social justice psychological research teams. Qualitative psychology, 5(2), 300.