Reclaiming Research at Birmingham- my experience

I approached lecturers and PhD students in my own department (Sociology) first, but then tried to find people in other departments. I was informed by a fellow People&Planet member that Metallurgy & Materials was one of the departments most involved with corporate funding, so I sent out emails to all the lecturers and research fellows in this department, and one agreed to meet me. I was also lucky to have access to a PhD student in the Astrophysics department because of his involvement with People&Planet. It’s really useful to ask whoever you find whether they can recommend anyone else for you to speak to.

I arranged mutually convenient times to conduct the interviews, went along with a dictaphone, a pad and paper, and the list of questions. It’s important to make sure that the interviewee is comfortable with being recorded by the dictaphone, and I did this before even taking it out of my bag so that it was less awkward for them to refuse. Only one interviewee did refuse, however. I tried to be professional yet friendly in my interviewing style, explained that the interviewee may not feel they could answer all questions, and that if there was anything outside of the questions asked that they wanted to talk about I would like to hear it.

Apart from actually answering the questions, my verbal role consisted of asking for clarification of what had been said, and probing for further information if the interviewee hinted at anything that sounded particularly interesting. In some of the interviews, the interviewee became much more relaxed part way through and from this point provided much more rich, detailed and interesting answers. I learned that it is very important to recognise that it is your responsibility to put the interviewee at their ease. If you are friendly and professional, this should pretty much come naturally. I wrote up my notes as soon as I got back from each interview, and listened to the dictaphone recording to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, although I would say that the dictaphone is really not that essential.

All in all I believe my interviews went well. It was extremely valuable experience for me, and it gave me a rare chance to converse with lecturers and research fellows outside of the teacher-student relationship. It has built up my confidence and I can highly recommend getting involved, not least because of the valuable information you can provide for People & Planet’s campaign.

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