Sometimes, you have to change your diaper, put on your big girl pants, and be more forceful.
I know the saying, “you catch more flies with honey.” Believe me, it’s one I use more often than not and know that by being polite and professional, you can get a long way. But, everyone has their limits. Sometimes, it’s time to put on the big girl pants and be a bit more forceful. I try to avoid this tactic because quite frankly, it’s really not my style. I am opinionated and from the north, making me an odd duck in the south, but being independent and strong minded are two of the qualities I would attribute to be my ‘strong points’ so I’m going to keep going with those things. Yes, I am also more introvert than extrovert so being forceful isn’t something that comes easy or naturally.
I engaged with a group of graduate students during the last academic year. All year, requests for research were met with minimal fanfare and almost minimal cooperation. Upon having a piece of research accepted for presentation, the research team knew we needed to collect some more data. Frequent requests were met with silence, crickets, and otherwise deafening white noise. Hhmm, I know they were all reading their email, I know most of them had those handy, dandy smart phones, but still nothing, not even a professional or haphazard response. It’s crunch time for this presentation and this researcher had enough. Besides consenting via the IRB process, these students also accepted other kind favors throughout the year that gave them advantages that others in their peer group did not have, (no, not money, please–) but other things that would help them out, besides the research. As a former graduate student, I know how important getting data, particularly from humans is and how difficult it can be. All of my graduate students are also into social science research and they also understand this plight.
So, I did what any good professor would do, I stopped being so damn nice. No, I didn’t call anyone, track them down, or embarrass them in public, but I did tug on some strings with this group. Come on, you’re a professional. If you were an undergraduate student, I would have known to get this data by May 1st before classes ended and moved on. All of these students are funded during the summer by the very dept. they are studying in and their dept. head and advisors are in on this–so why the lack of cooperation?
It could come back to a few things. They don’t like me. They don’t see the value and diminish by saying they’re too ‘busy.’ They want something for nothing (who doesn’t?)
If they don’t like me, too bad. They consented, time to ante up and hold up their end of the bargain. If they don’t like someone else on the research team, too bad.
They don’t see the value. Just because it’s not important to them personally, doesn’t mean it’s not important to us. They consented. No one formally dropped out. I’m running out of patience with this one already.
They want something for nothing. I get excited when I get a free drink card at Starbucks, only to realize I had to buy 15 other drinks for this card to appear in my mail box. You can’t always get something for nothing, even if it is finding a penny heads up on the sidewalk, it’s dirty. Now, my glass isn’t half empty today at all, but my point is this: rarely do we get something for nothing. We could even argue that unconditional love from someone comes at a cost so it’s no different in the game of academic research. Be accountable. Be professional.
As a new faculty, I’m sure this is not the first or last time I will have trouble with research participants. Perhaps my surprise stems from the fact that these are supposed to be professionals, but like I’m learning quickly, I continue to be disappointed. I need to manage my own expectations for research and student conduct. I will not apologize to any of these students for sending them a message that called them out. I refuse to. Call me stubborn, too independent or too strong minded, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to grovel to someone who couldn’t be responsible enough to be held accountable for the last nine months. No way. Incidentally, after sending this message to them individually, I received very quick responses, both sent via smart phones as both had the tag of “sent from…..” so, perhaps the urgency finally resonated.
How do you handle research participants who are less than participatory? Is it better to be more passive or find the balance? What happens when the balance isn’t working?