It's been a while since I've posted, and that's because it's been a while since I've done much work. I took a mini week-long vacation when a friend came to town. So far, I've done 5 interviews, and I have 2 more set up. I'm trying to find some more, as I'd like to get up to 10, but as it is I'm doing pretty well!

I've finished two transcriptions completely, and have started two more. It's interesting to go back and listen after the fact, see what little things I missed, somethings I wish I could follow up on, and start to see the trends among the interviews. As I've finished each one, I've sent follow up emails to the women, asking for clarification, etc. And I really am starting to see interesting trends that I want to follow up on in general for the thesis.

My next interviews aren't for a week, so as I work on the transcriptions, I'm also going to be checking out some of the books I brought with me, both those relevant to the topic and ones about the research and writing process in general. It's a bummer not to have interviews set up, but this is all work that needs to be done, so I'm going to do it!

More interviews and a Ramadan class

I had two interviews on Friday. Both happened to be with women who had converted to Islam, and it was really great to hear their opinions and perspectives. One of the women didn't cover her head, so that was a new perspective as well. I'm really hoping to get a wide range of women, and so far I'm doing well: a woman who was born Muslim but chose to cover (her mother didn't until she started to cover), a woman who converted who covers, and a woman who converted who doesn't cover. I have another interview tomorrow, and one scheduled for the week after, putting me at 5. That's halfway to my minimum goal! So that's good. I have another potential or two, and I'm hoping that I'll get in touch with some more as well.

Yesterday evening I went to the Women's Circle at the MECCA Center, an Islamic Center that mostly reaches out to converts and those interested in learning about Islam. There were a lot of women there. The topic was preparing for Ramadan, both spiritually and physically, in terms of how to best fast, what to eat, and how to exercise to make it through. It was really interesting. There were women from a lot of backgrounds and ethnicities. Most of them were over my target age group, but one expressed interest and I didn't want to turn her down just cause she was a few years older than what I was looking at. I left flyers at the Center, so perhaps more people will get in touch.

So far, I have been really satisfied with my interviews. And in between, I slog through transcribing.


Transcribing is really, really difficult. I knew that in theory, but after transcribing my first interview, I understand it now. My first problem was kind of silly: I'm not used to hearing my voice recorded, so at first I had a little trouble distinguishing between our voices. Usually, of course, I could tell based on what we were saying, but sometimes the interjections that weren't questions or answers, just clarifying points, were had to distinguish. I figured that out, though, and it as mostly smooth after that. There were sometimes I couldn't decipher exactly what was said, so I'll go back and listen to those parts over and over.

The main thing, though, is just how tedious and long of a process transcribing is. I don't know exactly how long it took me to transcribe the half hour interview, since I did it over the course of two days and took a lot of breaks. I do know that the transcript is an 11-page Word document, and that's after taking out all the ums and most of the likes.

I'm enjoying my project, and I'll be glad to have so much to work with, but I'm not sure I'll ever get used to transcribing. I could get software that does it, or pay someone to do it, but I think I would be so nervous that it would be wrong that I would end up listening that closely to all of it anyway.

So it goes. I've found something I dislike about doing research...but I don't think that's enough to put me off of it. So back I go, to do two more interviews today.

Community centers and an interview

I spent yesterday afternoon wandering around Brooklyn, trying to find two Muslim Community Centers I had found online. I was interested that almost every store and office in the three neighborhoods I browsed in had Arabic text in addition to English. I walked past many women wearing headscarves and all number of Islamic clothing stores and halal groceries. I never found the community centers I was looking for, though, and I wasn't really sure what other course of action to take to tap into the wealth of information that I'm sure was existing all around me. I wasn't going to stop women on the street, of course, and I feel uncomfortable leaving my flyers at a store or office. I'd rather go through organizations whose purpose it is to connect to the community and let them help me make connections. It makes it all seem more official and organized, and I'm trying to leave no room for either complaints to the IRB nor situations where I feel either unsafe or as if I've violated trust, expectations, etc. I will be content with fewer interviews that I feel I recruited in a good way than more interviews about which I feel slightly uneasy. Speaking of interviews, I had my first one yesterday evening. I spent the morning being nervous, testing my mic over and over, and prepping all my paperwork. Then I went searching for community centers, then headed to the interview. I was still really nervous, and since I for there early to be safe, I had a lot of time to let that nervous energy build up. As soon as she arrived, though, we hit the ground running. It was so easy to talk to her because I was actually interested in what she had to say, in hearing her answers and opinions and thoughts. And I mostly just asked questions, letting her say what she wanted and just listening to her. Afterwards, we walked to the subway and just chatted, and she offered to pass my flyer around and invited me to a class at her mosque where I could meet new people. It was such a great first interview and I feel great about it.

She followed up by passing my flyer along to her friends and sending me the email address of several other people I could contact, so I'm working on reaching out to them now.

More and more, I'm feeling solidified in my choice of this as a career, as a way to spend the rest of my life. I like hearing people's opinions, I like giving them a chance to talk about it, and I know that I will like writing about it. Grad school and I are going to get along well.

Scheduling interviews

Things I have learned in the last week: cold-calling/emailing women to ask for interviews is nerve-wracking and terrifying...but it does work. It helps that I've contacted relevant organizations and gotten contact information for various women from them, so that when I get in touch I can say where I've gotten their email addresses and phone numbers and it doesn't seem like I've somehow found them completely on my own. So far, everyone with whom I have gotten in touch seems interested and willing to give me some of their time, which has been wonderful. I have an actual interview scheduled for next week! I'd call it my first, but I'm actually in the process of scheduling one that will probably take place this weekend. After months of planning for this (I started trying to figure the IRB requirements in early April), it seems surreal to not only be here in New York, but to actually have interviews scheduled for concrete times. I still can't really believe that it's real and happening.

I am excited and very, very nervous to meet with these women and ask them my questions, to find out what they think about being Muslim women living in the United States. I'm hoping that after a few of these interviews, I'll have a better idea about what, exactly, I want to focus my honors thesis on. I know that once I start having interviews, my free time will suddenly have a lot more purpose as I try to stay on top of transcribing and coding the interviews so that once I start writing, all that information is easily accessible and I don't have to waste precious writing time (only 8 months!) trying to figure out my interviews.

Until the first interview, and probably after it and for the rest of the summer, I will be nervous and excited to meet these women and talk to them.

A summer in NYC

I am spending the bulk of this summer in New York City, officially getting my honors thesis project off the ground. My thesis will focus on young Muslim women living in the United States and the issues they face. I think that the unique combination of being Muslim, being a woman, and living in the United States leads to some interesting issues, whether positive or negative, and I'm looking at these women to tell me, in their own words, what they think these issues are. My plan is to set up interviews with Muslim women in their 20s and 30s to ask them directly what they think these issues are. I've tentatively narrowed my focus down to covering and veiling, but I didn't want to make a concrete decision until I hear from the women directly. I want to interview women of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and hope to find both women who were born/grew up Muslim and women who converted at some point in their lives.

I arrived last Tuesday, June 28th, and have contacted various organizations throughout the city to try to get into contact with women of the right demographic. It's been slightly slow going in the last week, but I have quite a few contacts so far, and several women who I am in the process of setting up interviews with. My fingers are crossed that I will have at least one interview later this week, and maybe a couple next week.

Originally, I was overly ambitious and expecting 30 interviews. I am now, hopefully more realistically, looking to get 10-20 interviews, and to have (at least most of) them transcribed and organized before I head back to campus for honors college, where I will have time to do more organizing, note-taking, and writing. I plan to follow up with a few more interviews once I'm back in the Bay Area, trying to fill in the holes I feel I have in the set of interviews I get in New York.

This is all very new to me: doing research on my own, not having a set schedule, waiting (im)patiently for people to email me back so that we can set up interviews. My days remain fairly unstructured, but hopefully as people get back in touch, I will have a little more to do.