The days in Bogota are counted for now, and with them my opportunities to collect more data. Friends and colleagues here and back home all ask me that one question: So, do you have all you needed? The most terrifying variation being “How many interviews do you have?” And every time someone asks me that, they send me down a spiral of doubts and worries. While I am convinced that there can never be “enough” when it comes to human interactions (to which I count formal interviews, but also participant observation, casual meetings with informants, exchange of material or immaterial things or favors, etc.), I also believe that my work here cannot and should not be translated into a certain number of interviews. In the end, their usefulness depends on their quality rather than the quantity. Yet, even though I am very happy with the quality of my interviews, I cannot but feel disappointed about their number.
There’s a name for how I feel about my time in the field. And apparently, it is a very common syndrome especially among women scholars. Maybe you have heard about impostor syndrome, that awquard feeling of being a fraud and the anxiety that people will find out. If you wanna know more about it, you can check out Chronicle Vitae. Also, the guys from StartupBros have some recommendations on how to get over it.
As for myself, I like to believe that even though I am deceptioned by the number, I am still happy about how well everything went. Knowing that I didn’t even know most of my interviewees before the trip, the depth of the interviews and the levels of trust reached in interactions do indeed surprise me. Considering furthermore, that so far all of them are willing to introduce me to other family members, and in general continue to cooperate with me, I can actually be at least a little proud of my work.
And, of course, I did not spend the whole time on doing interviews. There’s a lot more to being an academic in the field than being able to just run from informant to informant, extracting data from them like I was a cauchero and they the rubber trees. While I was here, I attended the publication of a book which includes an essay of mine. I met with colleagues and advisers to discuss my project and possible cooperations. I prepared a course I will be teaching during the summer term. I wrote a presentation I will hold at a conference in a week from now. I attended a virtual discussion with a research group I am part of. And that’s only the non-fieldwork-related part of the job. Why am I telling you this? Because this way I see there’s nothing to be ashamed of when thinking about “my number”. That’s as good as it gets; and maybe it’s time for me to forget about that romantic idea of simply being in the field and going about my stuff without any strings attached. One of the reasons I wanted to become an academic in the first place was precisely the variety of tasks combined in the world of science (apart from the obvious curiosity about other cultures, and my desire to teach). My way of dealing with impostor syndrome? Write about it, right here!
Sometimes I am seriously doubting whether studying Anthropology actually was a good decision. Sometimes in this case means every single time I am heading for an interview. I just can’t stop feeling unqualified, I always worry whether I’ll be asking the right questions, and I’m literally praying there won’t be too many moments of awkward silence – still being an atheist, that is. Every single time, I’m sweating more than I would on an entire day at the Caribbean. While other colleagues have told me they’re embarrassed by how much they speak themselves during an interview when they transcribe the audio file, I am more often than not worried about how to keep things going.
Every time I read texts on interviewing methodology, I cringe at the part that says one should try to make the interviewee feel comfortable. How in the world am I supposed to make people feel comfortable in a situation that is not comfortable at all, not even for me who I am supposed to be in charge of it?! I am clearly no small talk genius, and apparently worse so under pressure. Not that I would get into embarrassing moments by talking about inappropriate things, or something like that. You could at least call this a talent for ice-breaking, if you want. I am more the kind of person who becomes utterly aware of her social awkwardness around people I do not know.
So how do I go about these situations? Continue reading