What I Think Of When I Think Of Transcribing.

(Research terms are in Bold)
(duh, title is borrowed… from one of my favorite books: Murakami‘s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

I use a program called Transcriptions for Mac. It’s not the greatest but it works. I don’t have a foot pedal (you use them to stop play or rewind the audio as you type… it makes things easier)…. Oh yeah, transcription… what is it? Transcript is the written or printed version of something (usually audible)…. in qualitative research,  transcription is the process of transforming audio to text for later coding and analysis.

When you research in the humanities or social sciences, you have to make choices about your data collection and analysis methodology (how you are doing your research): either you’ll choose a 1) quantitative approach (numbers… how many did what when and where?), 2) qualitative approach (why, how, context) or 3) a mixture of both called the mixed methods approach… sounds fun… actually it is! But I AM  weird like that….

So this post is dedicated to the lovely process of transcribing your interviews. Interviews are used as a mechanism or method in  qualitative data collection. It can be quantitative but it’s not useful doing a quan research that way using interviews and may undermine your entire research unless you can justify it… a survey will do you better if you choose to go with numbers. Data collection is collecting information that will help feed answers to your “hypothesis” or Research Problem, the very thing you set out to explore. It involves “getting” your data or collecting it, organizing it, preserving it for the next step in the research process, Analysis. 

Interviews are basically the same as what journalist or talk show hosts do… they sit someone (or a bunch of people… which is then a focus group) down and talk to them. The interviewer (the researcher), can choose to ask the interviewee (the participant) a number of predefined questions (you have thought about this beforehand and planned what those questions are). This is known as structured interviewing. Alternatively, you can wing it with an unstructured interview (you would need to be experienced to do this as you may lose track of what you are trying to figure out or miss “leads” that your interviewee gives you). And yet another option for you (cause social science rocks like that and isn’t so black-and-white, yes-or-no math-like type research), is semi-structured interviewing! Basically that’s where you prepare a bunch of points you would like to go over with the person you are interviewing, the interviewee, just as a reminder during your session… think about it as the bullet points on a slide presentation or your presentation cue cards… easy? cool.

Ok so then you have your interview recorded and transferred into WAV or MP3 files onto your computer, and converted to whatever format your transcription software likes (in my case I converted WAV to MP3) and your ready to start transcribing… wait, what!? The software doesn’t do that for you?! You’re kidding! Nope, unfortunately amigo this is reality… if you would like that kind of technology, you have got to wait… “5 years” for that technology to be commercialized–says every AI researcher (when they actually mean anything between “20 years” and “I don’t know”).

The truth is, a computer understands what you allow it to understand… and when you introduce  symbols–images, text, or other visible content that is almost static–then you are working with a limited, albeit LARGE, amount of information. THIS IS NOT THE CASE FOR AUDIO. So unless you “tell” it that when it detects the sound/noise “AAAA-OOOOO,” which means ouch, which is a sound you make to express pain, it won’t process it as that… it will process it as frequency… fine… what if it understands that “aaaa–oooo” is a human sound that expresses pain? But then you introduce sounds from your trip to Algonquin park (north of Ottawa) and the recording happens to catch the sounds of wolves howling? How do you teach the computer to distinguish between the sounds? Let alone teach it one’s an animal and the other is human? You can introduce other variables like intonation, depth, length and so on… what about ambiguities such as sarcasm? It gets harder doesn’t it? This leaves you with an infinite amount of possibilities that necessitates thinking of a way to get the computer to become “self-taught” rather than feeding it the information… Seemingly, with things like Siri and Amazon echo, we are getting close… but technology still has a lot of Semantic intelligence to catch up with in order to develop flawless performance.

With that tangent complete,  the unfortunate reality is that when you conduct qualitative research and use interviews as a data collection method, you are left with no choice but to utilize human effort. The obvious way is to do it yourself, the not so obvious way is to hire the services of companies that do it for you… you’ll need to double-check their privacy terms and to make sure you include it in your ethical clearance application (if your university has one… which it must likely does!)… of course, when you are a poor student with literally nothing to your name except heaps and heaps of loans and debts and credits and overdraft… you get the picture…. that’s not an option… so you do it yourself… you sit for three hours going over a 10 minute segment because you don’t understand the interviewee’s british accent a couple of weeks after you recorded the interview and after so many others in between… but you just dive into it and keep going even past the two month deadline you gave yourself… It gets easier, monotonous, but easier. It doesn’t get shorter unless you start is what I keep telling myself during this tedious endeavour.

So there you have it! What it’s like to go through this boring process.


The Broke Researcher’s Monologue

I am broke… literally only a pound in my bank account, awaiting to pay tuition in about a month… and HOPING that I will eventually get the paycheck for all the stress and TA work I’d done over summer.

Of course it’s no one’s fault but mine… I have no publications to my name either. A certified academic bum… This PhD, not the research itself, but everything around it has been the most miserable experience of my life. And I am not sure if I see the light at the end… At least now, “i’m doing something”… when I am done.. what use will all of it be? After all, I am not exploring treatments for terminally ill patients, nor am I discovering the next source of energy… My research, well… It just expanded the hole in my pocket and the debts I owe people for helping me pay my tuition.

When it comes to the research itself, I am way behind… I have been procrastinating because I feel like my work has been a pile of garbage so far… The more I research the more I realise how messed up the world is and how useless research can actually be… You research not to better the world, which is what I intended to do… You research to appeal to what’s trending… you know, be in “vogue,” so to speak… what you do find out in the process is how bureaucratic everything really is… how money stays in the same pools, how some people’s roles involve money hoarding, others money spending, and finally, the majority are just money makers for the other two…  unfortunately, I belong to the money-making class that basically keeps pumping my institution with funds for exacerbated feelings of loss and confusion which is then applauded as the true outcome of the pursuit of knowledge! Hooray! At the same time, you begin to notice how opportunities are always assigned to the same small network of who-knows-who made up of hoarders and spenders, and the formalities (paperwork, rules, visa types, whatever) are meant to appease the money makers…

As an expat… if you really want to make it outside of your town, you have to know someone in another somewhere… or be white and happy to exploit resources in Asia or some other third world country because you couldn’t make it back home… how your “international” status basically is synonymous with economy booster…  and your privileges dictated by the type of your visa. I have been on the positive side of this… a.k.a the “rich” tourist type person from Canada… I have also been at the negative… like now.

Being an average citizen back home means you work at a supermarket, or as a pencil pusher at best (I am hoping beautiful man #Trudeau can fix this eventually). When I worked abroad that’s what I saw.. and that’s what made me want to go back to school. The honest truth is I didn’t really care much for being a doctor (PhD), or researching specifically,  I only wanted to escape the horrible circumstances I found myself in, in order to be able to help give back to the world somehow. Research, with its falsely advertised promises of helping the world progress seemed like a good idea at the time… Thing is, what I didn’t know is that I could have conducted my research myself without having to pay $30k CAD for an experience that isn’t worth much more than the privileges to use a run down research room, work double time to learn stuff you were already supposed to know, all for a graphically-designed printed paper with your name on it at the end…

I wanted something more for myself… I wanted what my parents had… they worked hard and got places… So I thought by doing the same I would to. So what would set me apart? Leaving.. getting a degree from one of the world’s top 50 universities… completing a hot degree on demand.. trying to reduce the pressure as I go… ?

The thing is… it was a hard lesson learned… because the pressure does not go down. It crushes you, and it makes you understand that fables of good vs evil does not exist. If you work hard you DON’T get what you “deserve.” Because you deserve nothing. This was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever had to accept. For years, I trained myself to focus on the goal. That if I work so hard… I will get “it.” It is not true…

I have no prospects for a job anywhere… not even a cashier at a supermarket anymore, because I was too arrogant to accept that. Now, I am “too over qualified”… My upbringing, as a third culture kid, with a multicultural ethnicity… well that isn’t a plus anymore either… you don’t belong anywhere… and where you don’t belong, like the cliched root of a tree, you get blown away.

I had mentioned that I quit smoking after about 12 years of chain-smoking… and nearly a year of quitting (today’s day 357!) I am battling the urge to smoke again… luckily I am broke and can’t afford it right now.. but being where I am at in life… I honestly don’t know how far down rock bottom will be, but it sure does feels like I crushed my face on it right now…

I suppose I should be thankful that I am at least on antibiotics, I don’t live in a shelter, that my family is relatively ok, and that I am still in school.

The thing is something deep down is missing.. that feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction… I say this because I have experienced it (fulfilment) once.. even though for a short period of time… so I know it exists… I just don’t know how to get it back…

For now… keep churning… keep burning… keep abxing.



PhD — A lonely Sailling Experience

It’s going to be 2 years in September since I began this scholarly endeavour. There are times when I feel that I am on top of my game. Other times, like now, I ask my self what the hell am I doing here? And then anxiously ponder whether or not I will actually finish this degree….

There was this smart girl in freshman year when I was doing my Bachelors, who I secretly admired. She went on to finish her PhD in Economics at #Brown, while I travelled oversees to work in 2012 or 13… I remember reading her facebook post and being so proud of her! It went something like “can’t believe it, today I received my degree… and cried!” or something to that effect. In reading it then, I never thought I would actually go back to school to do my PhD. It was a giant’s leap… Which I didn’t think I was capable of! But here I am. I am not sure whether or not I should have gone back to Canada to research–funding would have been easier! A stable political climate (knock on wood! not to mention a hottie PM); more guidance and mentoring, more prepping, and certainly more time to properly design and conduct a useful research…. Being in the UK has its advantages though, such as living in a commercial capital, experiencing a foreign country, being near my partner, travelling around europe, and not to mention finishing in less time (UK degrees are a 3-4 year affair, while in Canada it’s 4-6!). In the UK you are expected to know exactly what you are doing right off the bat. No “dillydallying” trying to come up with a good proposal. Your proposal should have been planned and written and submitted with your application. When you start you are supposed to gather proper evidence and research to support your proposal more academically. Then you conduct your research empirically in either quantitative or qualitative frameworks. There are no mandatory courses/modules to complete (you can choose classes based on your personal needs), no discussions with your supervisor (only updates and consultations), you do not read and think first then write. You write because you are thinking as you go or have already thought  and are executing…There is no time for regrets or re-planning or rethinking your research design…

If you wake up one day and think your topic is lots and lots of well supported and referenced BS, well, tough luck! Or rather, congratulations! You have just paid for 3 £20k semesters to find out just that! It is a finding after all, is it not?? I suppose this is why much (in my opinion) of British research is ethnographic, or qualitative in nature… there is a lot of reflection on how things were done (methodology) and ho to go about doing this better (discussion)… there is no time to re-examine again, they build on what they know… for someone else to take that research and build on it…. the historical legacy of research stems from the British’s pioneering days in Natural History and observation in the 18th century. They observe, they report, and they bring back what they can as evidence.

I’ve heard it somewhere that London’s Imperial College was in fact customs headquarters back in the day. All goods were inspected there before being released to the right institution or body. This involved most of the collection from exploratory voyages. Most of this stuff now fills up the likes of the British Museum and so on… How valid this claim is, I don’t know.

Anyhoo… Back to my TA work for now!



About My PhD

It has been long overdue. I intended to dedicate this blog to my PhD and the weird and grueling process that lies ahead. Since designing this (cause I also design stuff too!) blog last year (2015), my then mysterious condition got worse. Since that summer, I’ve come to know that I have Lyme. And this blog has since been split to various parts that cover every thing I do to overcome it, and all the things I do to give me purpose in life. This includes my PhD, A.K.A my baby.

I study how people interact with the internet and information, and how that information develops over time. This involves issues of sustainability, retention, management, and curation. It also involves some behavioral elements. Like I said in my bio, I am not to fond of face-to-face discussions (arguments!). However, I have been blessed with awesome colleagues and a wonderful delightful companion, all of whom are capable of civil conversations and fascinating mind-opening discussions.

On that note… one of my favorite quotes of all time is  Aristotle’s “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Since much of what I deal with falls on the controversial side of the spectrum, I write with some discretion.

So stay tuned!