Learning Qualitative Research Skills through Coursework and Extension Fellowship

This semester, as the UNH Extension Community and Economic Development Dalrymple Fellow I have been able to conduct research on the impacts and outcomes of the Community Engagement Academy and Main Street Academy through interviewing past participants. At the same time, I am a full time student pursuing my master’s in Sociology. The timing of my fellowship has worked out well with my course schedule, because this semester I am also in a Qualitative Research Methods class, a requirement for my degree. It has been an interesting semester learning about all of the different facets of qualitative research in the social sciences, while also conducting a qualitative research project. For any field of study, the method of interviewing is a learned skill. Having had prior experience with various other qualitative research methods in my undergraduate career, I did not feel too concerned about not having any interview experience prior to beginning my fellowship. However, also being in a class dedicated to learning about the method of interviewing put my mind at ease.

There were facets to interviewing I would not have been prepared for or known about if I had not been taking a Qualitative Research Methods class in tandem with my fellowship. I was able to complete a mock interview assignment prior to conducting any interviews myself, which is when I learned the importance of being comfortable with your interview question guide and to ensure there is time to “warm up” with the interviewee and build rapport. I also learned about the importance of active listening during an interview and writing a reflexivity memo directly afterward an interview. A reflexivity memo is a short list you compile directly after an interview of any notes you may have written during the interview or thoughts you have that you do not want to forget later. They are short, but can be extremely helpful during the coding process later on. I consider myself lucky that I am taking a class dedicated to learning the best practices for qualitative research as a social scientist while helping UNH Cooperative Extension conduct a qualitative research study. Both experiences have helped me become a better researcher, and will only aid in my future research endeavors!