Primary Data Collection

The past few months we have been focused on not only developing our theoretical framework for our article, as I discussed in previous blog entries, but also on collecting primary data. As our research is focused on Alternative Spring Break trips, understanding the application and preparation process for an Alternative Spring Break is extremely important. Additionally, interviewing student participants also provides us with a great deal of material to analyze the Alternative Spring Break experience.

 

We were able to find two comparable schools in size and location and access their applications for the Alternative Spring Break trip. In our case, it is quite amazing how much you can learn about a program simply based upon the very bare details of how it is advertised, the costs and expenses associated with it, and the caliber of the application. We have found that all of these factors create a very different desired experience for the individual student and thus attracts different people and shapes their experience in a different way. Analyzing these applications has proven to be very useful for our research. However, we acknowledged quite early on that more qualitative data would be necessary to strengthen our argument and analysis.

 

As such, I have been observing the preparation of an Alternative Spring Break program and analyzing it in the context of our theoretical framework. Additionally, I am currently in the process of interviewing student participants and faculty coordinators for an Alternative Spring Break that happened this year. I have been struggling with drafting my interview questions and Dr. Emily Welty has been an immense help in the process. For our last meeting together we both prepared questions we thought would be good for the interview. After a short lesson on what types of questions are good for qualitative research gathering, I ensured that my questions were not too specific, still focused on our research, but also not pointed to lead the interviewee in a certain direction.

 

With a bit of reflexivity and thinking about how to learn what I want to about students’ Alternative Spring Break experience, we finally achieved a base set of questions for interviews. However, Dr. Welty, who has extensive ethnographic and qualitative research experience has provided me with tips for interviews, reminding me that oftentimes the interview can drift from the basic questions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. As I gear up for my first interview this week, I am very excited and nervous! However, I think that my position as a student and peer will allow me to speak on a level with the student participants that someone with a higher degree might not be able to. I think that Dr. Welty and I have done a great job thus far in identifying each other’s strengths and applying those to our research project. I am very confident that the result of this research initiative will be interesting, critical, and a new contribution to the field of Peace and Justice Studies.

Writing a Creative and Publishable Piece

This research assistantship has been incredibly useful for me both personally and professionally thus far. I have learned a great deal about myself that will aid me in continuing my education and pursuing both an MSc and a PhD in the future. In being forced to balance complex research with my preexisting course load I have been able to learn, through trial and error, what works best for me and what simply does not work at all. Being that I am looking to pursue education beyond my Bachelors degree at Pace University, I aim to learn as much as I can from every task related to this project.

 

The winter break has been particularly useful for our research project, giving both myself and Dr. Welty time to think critically about the aims and direction of the research and read a great deal in order to properly place it in our theoretical framework. At the close of the semester I completed a literature review of Alternative Spring Break research and we have now begun to really parse the writing and ideas down to a few concise pages so that it will fit into a larger article for publication. This has been particularly challenging for me, I’ve noticed, because I become very attached to my work after quite some time. However, I understand that in cutting the work down considerably I will be gaining an invaluable skill of conciseness.

 

I have also learned that oftentimes some of the most challenging work to be done on a research project is finding the element of creativity that will separate it from work that has already been completed. This segment of the research project is often the hardest to come up with. You can’t really schedule time into your busy planner to sit and think about creative ways to frame your research and argument. Instead, you have to find ways to remind yourself to be thinking about your research frequently, with the question “what do we most want to learn” simmering in the back of your mind. This, combined with a lot of reading is what helped Dr. Welty and I shift our framework for the argument we will be making in our research. Little did I realize, a separate research assignment and resulting book purchase led us to make connections that we did not see before between Alternative Spring Breaks and Slavoj Zizek’s theory of Cultural Capitalism.

 

We have also begun to move forward with our primary research and in doing so I have learned a great deal about ethics and logistics of primary data collection. As Dr. Welty has a strong grounding in ethnographic research and most of my undergraduate experience has been the same, it was evident early on that we would utilize ethnographic case studies of Alternative Spring Break programs to support our analysis. However, until the winter break we had not given much thought to what programs and what we would specifically be analyzing.

 

This break has proved to be particularly useful for us to devote ourselves to working on both the theoretical framework and the primary research. In doing so, I have learned from Dr. Welty a great deal about both things as well as how to write a journal article that will likely be published. This experience has thus far been invaluable and will most definitely make my senior thesis work and future research easier. I am very grateful to be part of such a prestigious program working with a driven and intellectually stimulating professor and research topic.

Ethics and Alternative Spring Break

This semester I have completed a literature review on Alternative Spring Break literature. A daunting task when first assigned to me, challenged me both intellectually and emotionally. I have learned a great deal about how to go about writing and researching and what works best for me. The successful outcomes of this project have been twofold: I have developed a strong sense of my research and writing methodology while simultaneously refining my skills for publishable writing. Dr. Emily Welty has provided me with the opportunity to focus on both the immediate task of completing a literature review while she still values my analysis and suggestions for the ethical recommendations our project will provide.

 

Rather than feeling as though I am a student assistant to this research project, I feel like an active and productive co-researcher. This has allowed me to formulate a strong, self-motivated work ethic and the responsibility Dr. Welty has provided me with has been a very empowering experience. I thoroughly enjoy the ability to refine and question my ideas about ethical practices for voluntourism and alternative spring breaks. Researching and writing a literature review while continuing to think about the recommendations we will provide has enabled me to question my preexisting notions and ideas about voluntourism and alternative spring breaks, while grappling with challenging and ethically complex issues.

 

The literature review I have completed categorizes the expansive amount of literature into various categories including:

Alternative Spring Break and Compassion

Alternative Spring Break and Reflection

Alternative Spring Break and Border-Crossing

Alternative Spring Break and Reorientation

Alternative Spring Break as a Transformative Experience

Alternative Spring Break Difficulties and Problems

Alternative Spring Break and the use of Paulo Frere

Positive Effects of Alternative Spring Breaks on Participants

Alternative Spring Break and Vocation.

 

Each of these categories is fully fleshed out by the literature and in addition to writing on these topics, I have made general observations on the literature as a whole, noting that there exists a need for ethical guidelines for alternative spring break trips. While this process has been very challenging, I am throughly pleased with the completion of the first draft of the literature review.

 

Ethics of Short-Term Voluntourism

This year I am working as Dr. Emily Welty’s research assistant on a project outlining the ethics of short-term voluntourism. Although I am helping Dr. Welty with various aspects of the research, I am currently focused on writing a Literature Review of the literature on Alternative Spring Break trips.

 

I was provided the amazing opportunity to participate in the Summer 2013 Undergraduate Research Initiative with Dr. Emily Welty and spent the summer finding and reading an extensive amount of research on Alternative Spring Break trips. Now I will be shifting my focus from researching to writing on the topic.

 

Throughout the process of writing a literature review for publication I am learning a great deal about myself as well as the process of writing for publication. I have been struggling to balance my coursework with the research and have learned the best ways I can be the most productive. I am now utilizing the pomodoro technique and am forcing myself to write a minimum of 25 minutes almost every day of the week.

 

So far I have a significant amount of text and have tackled three overarching themes in the Alternative Spring Break literature. I have written on reflection in Alternative Spring Breaks, how Alternative Spring Breaks affect compassion and empathy in participants, and how Alternative Spring Breaks influence vocation and likeliness to serve in the future. This research is very interesting and I still have about 8 themes to address in the literature review.

 

I am very excited to be working with Dr. Emily Welty this semester because she has been a great resource and source of support throughout the summer and this semester.