Thesis Thursday: Getting Participants

So, I figure that Thesis Thursday is going to be my new blogging platform, at least for a little bit. I hope you all enjoy my thesis related adventures! Whether you’re a senior, a first year, an alum or outside of the direct Pomona community, I hope people find my anecdotes at least marginally humorous or relatable.

Getting participants for a study is something I never thought I would have to do – especially not for my thesis. I’m an anthropology major. I shouldn’t have to run participants and find people to observe or study or anything like that, right? I should just have to have “semi-structured conversations” with a few people, maybe discretely observe some people from afar, maybe ask (read: beg) a few clubs to attend their meetings so I could do participant observation, right? Well, here I am now, in the thick of November, trying to find participants to forcibly volunteer to watch some movies.

What’s more is that you can generally bribe people with money to participate in a study. I have seen more posters with some derivative of “Want $10? Have an hour? Take my survey!” written on them over my four years here than I have seen red cups strewn across the parking garage after Harwood Halloween – and believe me, that’s a lot. Well, guess what? Not anthropology majors!

“We’re anthropologists, not psychologists. We don’t pay people for our studies,” my advisor said flatly when I asked if I could have a small budget for paying participants. I was a bit concerned – people don’t give up an hour of their time for nothing in college. Time is money here, after all. And if I’m asking for time with no money in return, I won’t have a thesis. “How did you get your interlocutors to participate in your ethnographies, then?” I asked my advisor, hopeful for some advice. Her response:

“Well, it was easy. I gave people condoms.”

Well, great. It made sense for her – my advisor’s first published book was an ethnography about the sexual revolution in Iran, so giving out condoms was a natural and necessary reaction to the question of how to get people to participate. Something tells me that my thesis about human trafficking wouldn’t necessitate giving students at the 5Cs condoms, however.

So while I sat at the drawing board, I got hungry. And then it hit me. Food. A college student will never turn down free food. Cookies and pizza are staples of the Freshman-15™ and will surely attract people! One Chirp! and lots of begging later, and I have a focus group of 11 people which is to be run in around 24 hours. So, what’s the lesson? Bribery is key. Money works best, but food is always a sure-fire way to a college student’s heart. And when my participants are fed and happy, I’m happy because I have data for my thesis. All’s well that ends well, I suppose!

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get to give out condoms, too.