March 12, 2013, by Yvonne Teoh

The Life of a Researcher – Data Collection

If you ask psychology students about the challenges they face when conducting a research, the most common response you will hear is probably data collection or the recruitment of participants.

As the focus of my research is on older adults (individuals aged above 60), it was a relief, and surprise to learn that these adults are more willing, and eager compared to the younger counterparts. They were even grateful to participate, and there were even episodes where arguments arose among themselves over whose turn it was! The only challenge that I faced were the occasional eccentric characters that pushed the boundaries of my patience and tolerance.

For instance, an elderly man decided to use the time during testing to complain about his daughter-in-law. As a result, testing him took twice as long as other participants. Similarly, another lovely elderly man decided to discuss about his daughter-in-law during the testing session. However he decided to take it one step further, and gave me a short lecture on how to be a good daughter-in-law!

While this was a refreshing break from the normal routine, and one may argue that her conversation was ‘educational’ in a way, these episodes challenged my time management skills, and pushed the boundaries of my patience. It also gave me a new experience and perspective in dealing and working with older adults. It made me realize that all they wanted was someone to listen to them. A simple question such as ‘have you had your breakfast?’ or ‘how are you doing today’ I discovered was the catalyst to building a rapport, as it reflects care and attention that some of them have been missing in their lives as they age. Following testing, I found myself staying back just to chat with some of the older adults who also pampered me with attention, food, and stories of their experiences.

All in all, testing older adults has its ups and downs, but definitely more ups than downs. Having no prior experience in dealing with older adults, there was a feeling of trepidation before I undertook this research project knowing that I will need to work with them, but now I’m glad I did. The main challenge was not persuading them in participating, but in time management, and in keeping them on track. In contrast, while the younger adults definitely stuck to schedule and did not divert from testing, the main challenge lay in convincing them to participate. And just like the older adults, they also taught me valuable lessons. One such lesson is dealing with rejection, and my skin is definitely thicker than when I first started!

While data collection remains to be one of the most time-consuming and challenging aspects of experimental research, it also helps increase your patience, tolerance, and urges you to move out of your comfort zone in approaching complete strangers. At the end of it all, the ‘joy’ of data analysis makes all the pain and hard work worthwhile!

Azlina Amir Kassim
(Postgraduate Student, School of Psychology, UNMC.)

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