by Brooke Foster, OU Undergraduate Researcher
This semester is off to a great start despite all of the new challenges we are facing because of COVID-19. In the Spring, I got all of my funding in order to travel to the northeastern corner of Oklahoma and begin in-person interviews with people who have either lived or worked in the Tar Creek area. My goal has been to find these individuals and speak with them about their attachment to the place and their experiences of this environmental injustice. But as soon as I picked a weekend to travel to the site and begin introductions, the whole world went into lockdown. Among my many concerns about the health and safety of myself and my loved ones, financial uncertainty as my job shut down, and just the general anxiety of the world this year, I was also very concerned about the progress of this research. It feels like I have been studying the Tar Creek Superfund Site and its impacts on the community for so long that when I was told I couldn’t travel for the interview process, I was overcome by both frustration and utter disappointment. Little did I know that what looked like a major setback in March would actually turnout to be an outstanding opportunity for personal and professional growth.
After surviving the whirlwind that was the second half of the Spring semester, I spent my Summer resting and restrategizing with my supportive mentors, Dr. Person and Dr. Peppler, in order to begin this Fall with the determination I felt I had lost. Over the last month or so, I have spent many hours writing recruitment emails, sending weekly follow-ups, and then sending them again. This persistence has allowed me to exercise my communication skills as well as my flexibility and problem solving by working with the stacked schedules of potential participants and formulating solutions to our new socially-distanced reality. As a result of this work, I have conducted six approximately hour-long interviews, and I have several more on the books.
When it became clear to me that the only way to safely complete these conversations was over the phone, I was saddened by the thought that I would somehow be missing out on the full research experience. And while I do admit there are some things like body language and facial expressions that cannot translate to a phone call, I think there have been some fascinating advantages as well. When I call someone for an interview, I get the sense they are more comfortable than they may have been if we were to speak in person. Talking on the phone allows us to operate in spaces under our own conditions which has made discussions more convenient and relaxed. I have also noticed that with each interview, I am increasingly confident in my ability to actively listen to the participant and quickly produce relevant follow-up questions and responses. I can see my skills developing with each interview, and I am finding the conversations incredibly insightful for my understanding of the site.
As I reflect on my recent work, I am ecstatic about the momentum I have generated with the consistent encouragement of my mentors and colleagues. I have several more interviews lined up, and I look forward to the unique perspectives each of these participants will share. I am also excited to finish up the transcription process that has taught me even more about perseverance and time management. By the end of October, I plan to report another month of productivity as I begin to identify themes and construct an analysis for my paper.
Read more about my research in my previous posts!