As the summer progresses, I have moved onto the second phase of my internship at Supportive Living Incorporated. I am helping conduct a qualitative research project about the exercise program I was helping facilitate. This has given me an excellent chance to reflect on the on-site work I did as a fitness trainer, and put the program into a public health policy perspective.
The process of conducting qualitative research has been a fascinating, because in my studies thus far I have only taken classes about quantitative research. Quantitative research uses statistical and mathematical techniques to analyze observable facts. The central question of most quantitative research is “how can I use mathematics to give statistical significance to a quantifiable change. The gold standard of clinical quantitative research is of course the randomized controlled trial, which I had been taught to trust above all else.
In my current internship, I have begun to see the flaws in relying too heavily on one type of research. Due to a number of complex sociological factors, it is essentially impossible to randomize and control a large enough sample size of adults with brain injuries to do quantitative research on the exercise program. What our team can do, however, is conduct interviews asking participants and their families to share their thoughts and opinions on the program. Using these opinions themselves as our data, we can then look for the patterns in people’s experiences, and use these patterns to analyze the effectiveness of the program, and ultimately look for ways to improve the program.
As an intern, it is my job to transcribe and “code” the interviews. Transcription means listening to recordings of the interviews and typing them out on a word processor to create a hard copy. “Coding” is way of labeling and organizing bits of conversations from the transcripts. Similar quotes can be collected from multiple interviews, or a researcher can see how many times a particular topic was brought up in a single interview. You can also tag important pieces from an interview so a researcher can easily access the exact quote they need at a later point in time. You can see what a coded transcript looks like here.
Doing research in this way is much more productive for the purposes of Supportive Living Incorporated than a randomized controlled trial would be. A randomized controlled trial could only tell us about the size of a specific change in a strictly defined, predetermined aspect of our client’s fitness. Qualitative research allows us to work in reverse. We can gather all of our data, and then decide what questions are important to ask and look into further. Additionally, we can look to current literature being written about brain injury across the country and even internationally to see if the patterns we are seeing have been seen before, and what other clinics have done in similar situations.
My research advisor has given me the freedom to look into the research questions of my own choosing. I’ve chosen to focus on four aspects that I heard participants talk about repeatedly in the interviews that I transcribed and coded. The four aspects of brain injury I’ve been researching are:
- Body Image/Self Perception of people with brain injuries
- Depression and Suicide Risk for People with Brain Injuries
- Traditional Physical Therapy for Brain Injury and its Effectiveness
- Social Benefits of the Exercise Program
Reading through interviews and finding quotes about these topics has been a really interesting experience. The research I’m doing will be used in a forthcoming article about brain injury rehabilitation to be published in a scientific journal. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved with such a meaningful project and can’t wait to see where my research will lead me.
Here’s a video made about the exercise program with me in it!
Julia Doucett ’16