The Study Dude – An Angry Committee

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than for you to defend yourself against a hostile thesis committee.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude further explores InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing by Svend Brinkmann and Steinar Kvale. Find out if you have the qualities of an interviewer. Know how to stand up to a hostile committee.

Are you Fit for Interviews?
Are you the kind of person who can ask a stranger questions and recall trivial details? In other words, are you fit for interviews?

I’m not. In fact, when I interview someone, I zone out. Or else, I think exclusively of something they said that I want to clarify. And when the interviewee changes the topic, my only follow-up question no longer works.

Brinkmann and Kvale’s book taught me how to stay alert in interviews. By paraphrasing and probing the interviewee, I stay engaged.

These tricks also work in everyday conversation. For instance, whenever my friend makes a comment, I paraphrase it in a unique way. In doing so, I offer him my full attention. As an added benefit, I deepen my involvement in his dreams and goals. Thus, his dreams become mine.

So, learning the craft of interviewing can nurture intimate relationships. And anyone can learn the art of interviewing.

But Brinkmann and Kvale might disagree. They say that certain traits make for good interviewers:
– Pay close attention to the interviewee. Interviewers must craft good follow-up questions quickly and thoughtfully.
– Know the topic intimately. Yet, the interviewer should shy away from sounding like a know-it-all.
– Questions should be brief and clear. don’t use jargon.
– Listen closely and don’t interrupt. Feel comfortable with pauses.
– Listen with empathy. Try not to touch on topics too emotional for the interviewee. Notice the nuances of what the interviewee does and doesn’t say.
– Open yourself to the subject matters important to your interviewee.
– Steer the interviewee back on topic when necessary.
– Listen critically. don’t accept things blindly.
– Remember what the interviewee said before and ask for clarity where needed.
– Ask for clarity on your analysis. Ask whether your interpretation reflects the interviewee’s intended meaning.

Defend Your Interview
When you go into your thesis defense, you need to defend your interview. Why? Many faculties pooh-pooh interviews for lacking scientific soundness.

Plus, some tyrant on your committee (your supervisor) might embark on a mission to destroy you.

For instance, during my graduate studies coursework, a feminist instructor said she would gladly sit on students’ committees. But, if they ever offended her, she would destroy them. Her comment seemed directed at me.

Later, when I prepared for my thesis defense, my first supervisor, who departed with me on bad terms, was now on my committee.

We fought often. And days before my defense, during a heated argument, she refused to serve on my committee. She stormed out of the room. My male supervisor, in response, called it quits. My committee of two crumbled.

But, hearing my sobs, she felt compassion, returned, and agreed to continue.

Then the actual defense came. She was thrilled when I seemed composed and praised me for every clever rebuttal. She even encouraged the other professors to communicate with me in a friendly way. That day, I graduated with an M.A.

Yet still I scorn her.

So, no matter who’s on your committee, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If you choose interviews as your method, ready yourself for potential attacks from your committee. Brinkmann and Kvale outline criticisms you might face for using interview methods:
– Interviews get criticized for not being scientific. Respond by saying that what counts as science is open to interpretation. No set definition of science exists.
– Interviews get criticized for not being quantitative. Respond by saying that qualitative methods often appear in social sciences; thus, interviews have merit.
– Interviews get criticized for being subjective and not objective. Respond by saying that what counts as objective could have multiple interpretations.
– Interviews get criticized for not testing hypotheses. Respond by saying that interviews do test hypothesis at times, such as when the interviewer asks for clarity or probes or uses leading questions.
– Interviews get criticized for being biased. Respond by saying that interview biases can bring forth new dimensions?multiple perspectives.
– Interviews get criticized for use of leading questions. Respond by saying that leading questions, if done properly, can test whether the interviewee’s responses are consistent.
– Interviews get criticized for not being generalizable. Respond by saying that new knowledge does not necessarily apply to all situations. The knowledge accessed often depends on context.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Brinkman, Svend, & Kvale, Steinar. (2015). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. Los Angeles: Sage.