I stumbled across this old text document from 2007 when I did my first qualitative methods research class and was attempting to articulate to my professor why it was a difficult way of thinking for me to switch into. The notes sound silly to me now -- they sounded silly to me then as well, but it was an attempt to stand outside myself and say "okay, what concepts in qualitative research feel foreign to me, when I put on an engineering hat -- and why?" Without further ado:

The reason I do interviews is fundamentally "engineeringish." I've talked to people so I could build something better to fit their needs - for instance, engineering education (because I make the assumption that it's "broken.") Not necessarily to find out why people think what; that's not the end goal; I'm working to fix something.

I have a compulsion to make everything quantitative. I feel like I'm continually compelling myself towards coding and frequency analysis all the time, searching for numbers, and can't rest until I get numbers. Similarly, I have a numerical bias, the subtle feeling that it's not "real" or you don't "know" it until you can count something.

I search for strict causality (A causes B) instead of complex bidirectional interactions. I attempt to characterize everything with "boxes & arrows" which does not always work.

I also look for orthogonal categorizations - everything has to fit inside one and only one box.

I'm not used to changing my experimental procedures midflight. "How can you have valid data if you're not comparing the same type of data?" goes my brain.

My notion of the role of the researcher is geared towards positivist hard science research: results should not vary by the person who collects them, and we should be able to orthogonalize and filter out all transient effects instead of just being able to be aware of biases and counteract them that way. There is a "right answer" or a "truth" that is objective, even if we can only reach it subjectively. But it's out there somewhere.

Notes are silly. How can your thoughts and feelings about data be valid information? This research should be independent of your thoughts!

There are multiple perspectives, but there must be a "best" one, or at least best in various aspects. There must be a maximum (implies numerization) and there must be a way to optimize, and therefore there must be a "best" or at least "better" way of doing things! I see a drive in myself to optimize everything. There must be a best technique, the best equipment, the best books, the best interview subjects... and I need to find them.

There is a voice in my brain that says "Why study humans? You're a human, so don't you understand everything about being a human already?" And even if you don't, why can't you just ask people for information directly? Why do you need to do long interviews? Why not just do surveys if all you're aiming at is numbers anyway? (This is a sign of implied numeracy, and a sign of not understanding how you have to design research methods to account for how they will affect interviewees.)

I stuggle with the inherent social quality of the work. Qualitative research can only be verfied and authenticated by other people, whereas in engineering you can say look, it works, I made it work, and you are validated... you can (theoretically, not realistically) work solo.

I think of people as machines. I think of people's brains as state machines or databases with some "status" or "proper information." Ithink of their bodies as mechanisms that propel and convey them places. Food is fuel. This leads to a very "data-collecting-ish" way of looking at them when I'm trying to understand what's going on. I almost feel like I could be writing computer simulations of these people.