In The Footsteps of a Researcher

The routine

As I wake up stretching lazily in this hot room far from home, it’s still at the wee hours of the day but clearly the light from the window not to mention the heat tell me it is time to get up.  It is still early but no, not at all, you need to quickly get up or else you will get late for the assignment, the distance to go can be so far and tiring but you have to do the work. A lot need to be covered today, more than yesterday; you need to get clarity on some emerging issues. My mind is talking loudly and telling me laziness is not an option. You have no choice but to quickly start preparing for the day since time is running out. What did I not cover yesterday?  That is where the day starts from, building from the unknown, being flexible, adjusting the set schedule to suit the new revelations. This is interesting if you ask me: All you need is to be attentive and keen; use all your senses ... feel, hear, see, record, and continuously analyse. Analysis is ongoing, and is a key component in qualitative research. More insights and information can be got through just that; interesting isn’t it?

Surely how did I get here? Unbelievable, I had never imagined myself doing what I am doing now. I had barely dipped my feet  into the world of NGOs, first as a volunteer and then getting small contracts, here and there, drafting field reports and performing other tasks. Then came along the world of moving around, administering questionnaires. Mmmhhh boring, I thought to myself, but curiosity overcame me, making me give it a try.  Here I was now, with a title of data collector. My first experience was interesting ... you meet a very rude respondent, don’t care attitude one, then a more than willing one ready to give you even more information than what you actually wanted. Uuuuh …. I should do this more and more I told myself with a smile.

With time I gained mastery in data collection using questionnaires. It was more interesting and exciting than what I had thought initially. The idea of going to new places and interacting with new people was exciting. It also comes with lots of learning, which surely cannot be taught in any classroom. This is how I became a researcher, progressing gradually from collecting survey data to a becoming a qualitative researcher.

Following the footsteps of a qualitative researcher

It all started one day, when I received an email from Twaweza East Africa seeking applicants for a  training in qualitative research. At the time I was a Twaweza coordinator, preparing for the annual assessment and training in my district. With no prior experience in qualitative research, I got curious enough to apply. A few days later I received an invitation to the training in Kisumu by one Dr Sheila Wamahiu as the trainer.

I still remember that first day as if it was only yesterday. The training was intense and transformative I learnt a lot of things not to mention how research can be used to transform and bring change to communities. This was an eye-opener and transformative. We learnt about the “dos and don’ts” of qualitative research ethics and methods, the difference between emic and etic perspectives. I realized how interesting and informative research can be. Through the training, I acquired new skills, gained new knowledge and learnt new ways of doing things. It opened my mind to see things differently and I discovered my new self. I realized that research should not just end with writing a report but should aim at higher goals of instigating change and betterment of the situation. The whole process teaches you to be that there are no shortcuts; one be committed and ready to be hands on. I

I get more enthusiastic and eager to learn more and practice the skills I have acquired through the training. Lucky enough I get an opportunity soon to work as a mentee on a major research assignment coordinated by Dr Sheila. This was the first of several that I have since engaged in under her tutelage as part of Jaslika. I have been learning on the job and growing as a researcher, gaining in knowledge and confidence with each new experience in the field.

When you learn doing it on your own

Experience is the best teacher of all time and this couldn’t be more true in my case: I have learnt the importance of teamwork, the value of commitment, not to mention flexibility and readiness to adopt new ideas, accepting my own weaknesses and meeting that deadline even if it means burning the midnight oil to finish a transcript or analyze an interview.  I learnt that to be a good qualitative researcher I need to stretch out of my comfort zone and focus; it is important to pay attention to the smallest detail. You cannot compromise the quality of work you present and more so professionalism has to be maintained. You employ the most efficient and fastest method of getting ahead and producing the best result which will guarantee you an edge over the others. All this requires a great deal of sacrifice and being determination. Sitting in the house the whole day, trying hard to transcribe an interview, does not sound that exciting and adventurous as going to new places. Did I mention the use of professional software that you can use to communicate and even analyze interviews? Here details are key and you have to always remember that ‘’not all that is counted counts’’. This echoes in my mind as I try hard to apply my new got skills in qualitative research. Being attentive and a keen listener, to be precise using all my senses in data collection and analysis. In the field you get to learn a lot; how to cope with different people, some difficult others friendly not only the informants but team members too.

Our society is suffering from a dearth of competent people not because they are not there but chances are not availed to them for mentorship and apprenticeship. Most young people are good, they can be better if given a chance. I am one of the lucky few I bet; through mentorship under Jaslika I can stand up and do what I initially could not do … my writing skills, not to mention my critical thinking skills are getting better and my confidence and sense of independence, stronger. An apt trainer and facilitator I have become, not to mention the wide spectrum knowledge I have gained. I can now advocate for and present issues that affect this generation in one way or another. I can contribute to national development through youth empowerment which is what Jaslika is focusing on, changing and improving lives ... one life at a time.

Life can be interesting and exciting if that is what you choose. Research is one of the most exciting and adventurous ventures if you put your heart into it and this is what I enjoy. Being a young girl in school, even at college, I never imagined that is where I would be one day but if I look back and had a chance to choose this is what I would choose to do ... bringing opportunities to communities and giving hope through self-initiatives and being proactive.