One over-long note on the interview process

I received an email a few weeks ago about a scientist doing a massive study on distance learning. I emailed the guy and said, I’d like to talk with you about this when the study gets to an appropriate point. And so we set a date when he was ready to talk about his findings.

That was today. And my first question was, how do you clear IRB, coordinate research from something like half a dozen universities in multiple states and get several co-authors to all pull their weight between when you started this in April and today?

Actually, my first question was, “What’s the difference between distance learning and distance education?” This was a pleasant surprise for him, and you could here it, because he realized this person might be willing to listen to the details. There are a handful of ways to get on the right side of the conversation. One of the easiest is to show you’re going to let the person do their thing. If you demonstrate to a scientist that you’re going to let him roam through nuanced terminology that is still a minor debate among his colleagues, he knows what you’re there for.

It’s sometimes helpful in getting the good answers.

I was talking with The Yankee about this still in-progress study before I talked to the lead author and she says “What’s his question?” This is a basic way to deconstruct a study, but this particular study doesn’t have an overarching question as yet, because this is all brand new. We’re in this forced march to distance instruction — and we’re going to do it again this fall, you wait and see! — and this is a first-time exposure. The question a study like this is going to try to answer is “What are the questions?”

So I tried to explain the study to my wife, from memory, while away from the study, and while we were riding bicycles. I failed at this explanation because she finally said “I still don’t know what his question is.” Which was when I suggested she stop being a grad school professor for a second.

What’s interesting about this interview, to me, though, is that I started thinking up questions with no idea what the answers might be, still-brand-new study and all. Some Thursdays, you work without a net.

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