Research Culture Shock (Monday, 3/3/14)

It seems like ages ago since our motley crew first set out for South Texas, and yet, we have only concluded our first day here. From the little I have seen of the area, it is quite different from my imagination. Driving on the vast, multi-lane freeways, I see stretches of farmland sprawling between McAllen and Harlingen, not the urban atmosphere I was expecting. There is much to see in this area, away from the freeways and the chain restaurants, hotels, and outlet malls that line them, and I can’t wait to explore.

My form of culture shock came in the academic setting, of all places. My team went through a compact, rigorous training session in phenomenology at UTPA. “What is phenomenology?” you ask. I had no idea either. I learned that it is the study (-ology) of a phenomenon (in this case, the Affordable Care Act). My project seeks to understand the experiences of people who have considered and/or tried to register for the ACA through in-depth interviews.

Dr. Schembri, who is leading the project, stressed that the goal is not to collect “data,” in the typical sense, or establish a representative, generalizable sample. In the age of big data and evidence-based practice, this is almost shocking to hear. Rather, she emphasized the objective of finding experiential meaning. But what does that translate to in the interview? We want to ask about the what and the how, but not necessarily the why. We don’t want to ask specific questions about the ACA, but rather let the interviewees guide us through their experiences, their context, their focus, their hopes and dreams…

Coming from a background in epidemiology and data analysis, I’m finding myself in a whole new research culture territory. I’m at once intimidated by the undertaking and excited to learn something new, to understand the issue on a deeper level. The interviews start tomorrow – we’ll see what the week brings!


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