On Entering the Field: Notes from a Neophyte Researcher
Qualitative field research can capture the life worlds and definitions of the situation of informants often not reported in quantitative studies. Post hoc reflections of how more seasoned researchers define, assess, and interpret the process of entering the field and the interview dynamic between the researcher’s subjectivity and the subjectivity of informants are widespread in the qualitative research literature. However, seldom are the personal stories and reflections of neophyte researchers voiced in published accounts. This article accounts for my experiences in researching the “dirty work” of frontline caseworkers and the importance of practicing empathy while managing a boundary. I emphasize the practical sense-making challenges of managing a delicate balance between under and over rapport in researching homeless shelter caseworkers as an occupational group. My experiences underscore the challenging dynamics of maintaining a professionally oriented research-role, as well as the crucial importance of boundary work and distancing as practical strategies to qualitative interviewing.