Last time I wrote, I was worrying about my project – specifically, trying to get enough people to interview. That’s still a problem, but slightly less of one due to some friendly folks in the twitterverse. After posting last week’s PhD progress update, I put out a call for help on Twitter last Wednesday:
“Still looking for Melbourne small businesses to interview – esp. bars, cafes and restaurants. Info at http://bit.ly/bd8qXi“
Not a new idea, and something I’ve tried (to fairly minimal response) before. Since the last time, however, I’ve become a lot more active on Twitter – gathering contacts from the social media community, and as many Melbourne small businesses as I could track down. As it turned out, it wasn’t my immediate contact that helped to spread the word. Instead, the message was retweeted or otherwise passed on in various forms by a group of different people, most of whom I’d never met before. Many thanks (and much internet karma) to all those who helped! You made a weary PhD student much happier about the world.
I now have a few new interviews organised, and have sent off a bunch of emails. A few friends have asked why I’m using such an easy-to-ignore medium when contacting people, instead of picking up a phone. The business world seems to love phonecalls and hate emails, while the academic world is the complete opposite. After thinking about it, I guess I have a few reasons:
Firstly, I hate getting phonecalls while I’m working. It breaks my concentration and usually rearranges the tasks I’d planned to be working on that day. So, I try to extend that courtesy to other people: when they are at work, I let them do their job. If “deal with enquiries from random strangers” is something they prefer to do when attacking their email, I’d much rather let them do that when they want to deal with it.
Secondly, cold-calling strangers is right up there with my Least Favourite Things To Do. Regardless of how the actual conversation goes, all the stress associated with it (picking a time, trying not to be intrusive etc) generally manages to ruin whichever day I have to do it on. I really can’t explain it – I’d much rather give a talk in front of an audience of strangers, undergo surgery, eat spiders or jump out of a plane…
Finally, and most importantly, I don’t want to pressure people into making decisions. Calling or rocking up to someone’s workplace forces them to decide on their participation immediately – even if that decision is “come back later after I’ve thought about it.” I want to give people a chance to hear a brief elevator pitch, read further if it interests them, and make their decision.
It’s probably costing me a lot of potential interviews – small business owners are super-busy people, and giving an hour of their time to a random PhD student can be a big thing to ask. It does mean that I value those who agree to take part in the project even more, though.