My name is Sarah Blanton, and I am entering my senior year studying Global Affairs at George Mason. During the summer, my colleagues and I have continued a project Dr. Cher Chen of the School of Integrative Studies started about a half-decade ago on student activism and well-being. Although literature on student activism is well-established, almost no studies address student activism, well-being, and burnout in conjunction. This study seeks to address this gap in research, and eventually provide the foundation for student support networks to be built. We worked with 3 faculty members: Dr. Chen, Dr. McCarron, and Dr. Cai. I worked on a team of 6 undergraduate researchers. My colleagues were divided into three teams: Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, and Immigration Rights. Our teams contacted participants in the relevant areas, and conducted interviews for participants with activist interests which matched our teams. My partner and I, Anagha, worked on the Women’s Studies portion of the project and also interviewed LGBT+ activists.
In order to meet COVID-19 guidelines, all of our meetings have been conducted virtually. All interviews with participants were entirely digital, using the Blackboard Collaborate function. We recorded and transcripted interviews using the Otter.ai app, and polished transcriptions by correcting any discrepancies between the transcription and audio file. We also attempted to address how the pandemic places a strain on student activists by incorporating questions about well-being and COVID in our interviews.
Although I have about a year of qualitative research skills, this has been my first experience gathering data. I really enjoyed conducting interviews, and my passion for the subject motivates me to do the best work possible. By learning to conduct interviews, I gathered a valuable research skill which will stay with me throughout my career. Transcribing has been an exercise in concentration and attention to detail. The most valuable thing I have learned during this project is how to code transcripts, which I have aspired to learn for over a year. I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally understand this process. I feel like I have all the tools I need to conduct my own research projects in the future. Hopefully, having this knowledge will make me more competitive for TA positions or graduate research positions, since I have always dreamed of continuing to grad school and need to finance my ambitions.