How to cope with research interview stress

Collecting good data is one of the key elements of conducting a qualitative project. Of course, analysis, writing up and situating your findings within the existing literature are all important, but if you don’t have rich, relevant data, the rest can just be window dressing.

As qualitative researchers, we’re often speaking to participants about emotive and difficult subjects. Chronic illness, bereavement, burnout, experiences of discrimination – these are just some areas which tend to be the focus of the kind of work we do.

Additionally, there are the practical elements of recording data. Is the recorder working properly? If you’re meeting the participant in person, will the train getting you to them be on time? If you’re meeting virtually, will all the tech work OK?

Travelling to meet your interviewee? Make sure you’ve planned your trip and have a back-up plan in case of delays or cancellations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo by kwan fung on Unsplash

These elements combined can mean that conducting interviews takes its toll on the researcher just as much as the participant. If, like me, you find that conducting research interviews can be anxiety-provoking, here are some tips for handling that stress.

  1. Create a flow chart you can follow before and after each interview

Knowing exactly the process you need to follow to ensure you’re prepared for an interview can remove the pressure. I’ve created a flow chart to follow so that I don’t need to worry I’ve forgotten anything. The chart has steps for when a participant first signs up to take part in the study (such as ensuring that I have their consent form and have filled in all the relevant paperwork), in the half hour before the interview (ensuring that anything which makes a noisy notification is switched off, that the recorder is charged and that I have a glass of water) and for afterwards (loading the audio file onto my machine and making field notes).

  1. Test all your equipment

Before I start any research project, I tend to call a friend or relative and have a quick chat with them in the space from which I’m going to be conducting the interviews. These days, much qualitative interviewing is done either on the phone or via video chat. If that’s the case for you, test out both these options with someone friendly, and (with their permission!) record your conversations. That way, you can spot any difficulties in advance and feel reassured that those all-important interview recordings will come out crystal clear.

Meditation and deep-breathing exercises before an interview can help to de-stress the body.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo by Le Minh Phuong on Unsplash
  1. Take 10 minutes to meditate before each interview

I’ve started doing this recently and have found it immensely helpful in dealing with the anxiety that interviewing can cause. I sit on a comfy seat, away from my desk, and set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes. I then shut my eyes and take time to focus on my breathing. I observe any thoughts that come into my head, then try to let them go. This means that when I come back to my desk to conduct the interview, I am calmer and clearer headed than I would otherwise be.

  1. Engage in self-care after each interview

Find something you can do at the end of an interview to look after your mental health. That might be going for a walk around the block, writing in a research diary, taking your lunch break or whatever it is that gives you a break. Your mental health is every bit as important as the health of the participants in your study, so take the time to look after it.

A black and white historical photo of a woman using early recording technology
Recording tech has come a long way, but it’s still always a good idea to test everything before starting your interview.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash
  1. Talk to your supervisor or university wellbeing team

If the pressure of conducting a series of interviews starts to get you down, have a chat with your supervisor or a university counsellor to help you deal with and process the emotions that interviews are stirring up in you. Research is always a team effort, so don’t feel bad about asking for support from the people you work with. Universities often have good wellbeing departments, so it’s worth reaching out to them if you want to talk about stress caused by interviews or any other element of your research journey.

  1. Let PGPR lighten the load

Here at PGPR, we understand how stressful research can be. While we obviously can’t conduct your interviews for you, we can help by discussing your interview schedule with you in a video consultation, transcribing your audio files and offering feedback on your analysis. We’re a friendly, experienced team who are always happy to help. Get in touch via the button below to hear more about how we can help you.