I entered sociology not knowing what I wanted to study or how I wanted to study it. My department is pretty quantitative, which is not a problem for me because I love math and numbers – always have. But I found out something about myself, both in my master’s program year and last year, and that is that I love doing qualitative work, in the form of particpant observation and interviews.
I’m doing interviews for my candidacy paper, which we do in lieu of qualifying exams. It’s so time consuming and so hard to make sense of what’s going on, but it’s also amazing. I’m interviewing mothers, as parenthood is something that I’m really interested in (wonder why?), and the things they tell me, a total stranger, for no compensation, is wild. They let me into their lives for 2 hours and tell me things that they’ve told no one, not even their closest family and friends. The reveal things about their marriages, their relationships with their parents, their children, that are extremely painful for many. It’s such an act of generousity, to tell me these things for my research, I often do not know how to repay them.
But interviewing is a lot of work. Not the interview itself – I’m able to establish rapport really quickly, first by being really friendly and professional over email, and then just being open in the interview, and I am truly fascinated by people’s lives and the issues you would never know lurked right under the surface. But the scheduling and driving, the coding and analyzing – it’s a lot. I have a goal of completing 50 interviews by the end of the year, and I’m halfway there. There are some demographic groups that I haven’t been able to contact yet, but I think that will end soon as I have a meeting with an “insider” next week. Scheduling means nights and weekends and early mornings. The actual interview means sometimes driving a hour each way. It means less time with my kids, less time with my family.
But I love it anyway. I often find myself in another mother’s shoes, understanding the stresses that parents go through to do what they think is right for their kids. I get such a sense of satisfaction everytime an interview ends that I’ve gotten something important that the world of sociology needs to know. It’s also sad, because I find myself liking the women I meet, wishing we could be friends, but know that we cannot. I promise them all that I will send the finished product, and all I can do is hope they like it and appreciate their contribution to increasing knowledge.