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Why my PhD Project has a Facebook Page

When I started my PhD project I was warned by various researchers that the group I was targeting was going to be very difficult to source and even more difficult to stay connected with. Because I was interested in talking to a wide range of drug users, from the occasional to the addicted, I became very worried about how I would live up to what seemed like a moral responsibility to appropriately represent their experiences, and to provide them access to those representations.

I wasn’t going to be like the bitter health care worker who rails on about how ‘junkies’ always miss their appointments. I would be considerate of the difficult circumstances the drug user was under and I would not fall into those same traps. I would only interview people who genuinely wanted to speak to me about my research. I was determined to be different, not to simply take advantage of my participants without providing a meaningful return for their invested time.  My worst nightmare was that I would locate a participant, pay them to speak to me, and never see or hear from them again.

The practicalities of doing PhD research however wore me down, and my standards slowly slipped. I travelled long distances to meet potential participants who never showed up. I began to expect that they weren’t going to show up.  I was finding it difficult to lock down dependent users for interview sessions and started to bargain with participants about what amount on a supermarket voucher would be worth their time. I accepted people into the study who seemed more interested in the voucher than the research. Despite my best efforts to record contact details, many didn’t have a permanent residential address, or even regular access to a phone. I never heard from most of my participants after the interview. In the end, the bleak circumstances described above wasn’t all that far from the reality of my experience of data collection in drug research.

Though it didn’t all go the way I wanted it to, I did manage to maintain a sense of satisfaction around my research participants. I set up a private email address to facilitate a more comfortable environment for my participants to extend the conversation beyond the interview. Though few, some took this up as an option. I never spoke rudely to, or about my participants and potential participants. And I wrote a reference to a magistrate’s court for one of my more enthusiastic participants. But there was one thing I did that my participants seemed to respond to the most.

I set up a Facebook page for the project. I made it public, so participants didn’t have to ‘like’ the page, and therefore expose themselves to all their friends, in order to view its content. I update it with presentations and papers as I deliver them throughout my candidature. I even ended up using the page to recruit participants and shared my research with friends and colleagues as well. The page isn’t all that interactive, but I mentioned it at the end of each interview and it was always well received. Even for those who didn’t have regularly access to the internet, I reassured them that I wouldn’t take the page down, and that it would be there to access for a long time to come.

Looking back on data collection, maintaining the page was a cathartic exercise that was an important part of how I maintained some semblance of a connection with my participants, even if I had no idea how many of them saw the things I was posting.

Click here to see the project’s FB page



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