Having more or less completed the data collection for my PhD research, I have started to reflect on the reaction and reception I received from scientists and physicians when I asked them to participate in my study. Much to my surprise and utter gratitude, almost all the people I approached were happy to help me. I think part of this comes from their appreciation for research in general, their shared experiences with the frustrations of recruitment, and their knowledge of and concern for social issues. So, instead of facing the typical and often major problems associated with recruitment, I now face what I think is a much more difficult obstacle that weighs quite heavily on me: how will I ever pay back the generosity, kindness and contribution of these scientists? I do not know if it is possible that I could balance out this debt. I hope that having a unique opportunity to share their experiences and ideas with me was personally fulfilling and interesting for them. I hope that my dissertation can make a contribution to scientific and social scientific knowledge that in some way resonates with changes they would like to see in science or in society. I hope my study will raise the profile of the scientists with whom I have worked. And I hope I exposed them, even if just a little bit, to sociological ways of thinking that they find valuable.
Yet despite not having faced significant problems with recruitment, I still feel that many scientists I talked with were not at first sure of why I would want to talk to them or what contribution they could possibly make to a sociological study. I often heard the following:
– I’m not the best person to talk to.
– This part is really boring and there is nothing to see.
– I’m not really an expert in social issues.
– I just do lab work so I’m not sure that is relevant for you.
– I’m just starting out my career so I don’t have much to say.
I can completely understand where these concerns come from. Indeed, as much as their world was a mystery to me at first, mine must be quite removed from their experiences. Some even told me they had never spoken with a sociologist before. However, the kind of thinking reflected in the statements above actually reflects the exact opposite of what many sociologists believe about people. A foundational assumption in much of sociology is that all people are experts in their lives and experiences. This is an expertise that is a consequence of just being in this world, and it is this expertise that sociologists want to explore. While I can’t speak for all sociologists who study science, each of whom would have a different focus, motivation, and methodology behind their studies, the following are points that might be helpful for scientists who are asked to participate in sociological studies:
- All people are experts in their lives and experiences. You do not need to prepare anything for your interaction with a sociologist. You come pre-equipped with all the ideas, opinions, and experiences required.
- In particular, what is mundane and “everyday” for you is fascinating for a sociologist.
- Sociologists are not journalists. They are not looking for “sound bites” or “lay explanations”; rather, they are looking to understand your ideas, opinions, and experiences.
- You do not have to answer any questions you find objectionable, and you can always withdraw from the study without providing a reason. Sociologists are trained to be mindful and protective of your anonymity and privacy.
- In sum, your opinions, ideas, and experiences are not inconsequential or unimportant; they are integral to empirical sociology.
I value the contribution of the participants in my study greatly. To everyone that has helped me with my study in even a small way, THANK YOU.