Research Assistant induction

Colin Reilly

Earlier this year we held our Research Assistant (RA) inductions at the University of Zambia and University of Dar es Salaam. This was an opportunity for us to properly welcome our RAs into the project team and to introduce them to all of the things that they will be doing as part of the project. It was also a chance for me to spend more time with the Zambia and Tanzania project teams.

Our project is centred around conducting linguistic ethnographies to look at how language is used and is viewed in schools and communities in each of the 3 countries that we’re working in – Zambia, Tanzania, and Botswana. My background is in linguistic ethnography, and one of the aims of the induction sessions was to introduce the RAs to what linguistic ethnography actually is, to discuss the different methods they will be using, and give them a chance to develop the other skills that they will use over the course of the project – from data collection and data management to transcription and analysis.

The induction sessions were designed over the course of a few months, with the whole core team invited to pitch in with ideas and feedback at various stages. Then, before the sessions took place, I sat down with each country lead – Joseph in Zambia and Gastor in Tanzania – to run through the session and the handbooks we’d created in closer detail. This gave us a chance to tailor each session to make sure it would be relevant to conducting research in each country context, and to include content in other languages (Bemba, Tonga, Ngoni) so that our handbooks weren’t solely written in English (which is important for us given the focus of the project). Having the whole team collaborate on this process was important so that the RAs were given the right tools and training they need to do their work effectively. For example, the fieldwork sites don’t always have reliable electricity, so data storage and management processes have to be designed taking this into account. They necessarily look different to the processes we would use if we were collecting data in, say, Essex. Things like our transcription protocol also had to be worked on collaboratively as we had to adapt our guidelines to make sure they were appropriate for the multilingual data we will be collecting.

Although we only had 2 days for each induction session, we covered a lot of material. We wanted to give the RAs a chance to experience the techniques they would be using in the field so the training included activities focused on doing mini-ethnographies, storing data, transcribing data, and coding data. They also had time to familiarise themselves with the recording equipment that we’re using on the project. We’re collecting lots of different types of data – classroom observations, classroom recordings, individual speech recordings, focus groups, interviews, field notes – so we have different equipment for all of this.

During the sessions we introduced our RAs to 3 principles (which we’ll write more about in a later blog post) which are guiding our approach to how we do research on this project:

  1. Researching multilingually
  2. Researching collaboratively
  3. Researching responsively

We adopted these principles for running the induction sessions as we wanted them to be very active, hands-on, collaborative, and multilingual sessions. While I wasn’t initially sure how this would go, it ended up being a very useful way to work and the sessions all turned out as good as we could have hoped. This is in no small part due to the incredible RAs that we’ve recruited for the project. Everyone was able to contribute and have a say in how we are approaching the project. As we are such a large team, working across 4 different countries, it’s important for us that everyone feels a part of the team and the larger project. The time spent together during the sessions and socialising outside of them allowed us all to get to know one another better. As the main contact point for everyone on the project, I spend a lot of time emailing our partners, and this trip was a very valuable and enjoyable chance to spend some proper time with the people that we’re working with. It was also useful as it allowed each sub-project team to gel more closely. Everyone now has a sense that they are part of our much larger, international team.

With our RAs now fully equipped and ready to go, we’re now in the next exciting stage of the project – data collection! Our Zambia team have finished their first cycle of data collection, and our next blog post will be from our RAs, Martha and Chileshe, reflecting on how things went.

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