By Antonia Vesting and Tony Pravemann*
Three weeks ago, our course had the opportunity to conduct online interviews with students from Seikei University. When it comes to social science research, interviews are often seen as a central method for conducting qualitative research. However, especially as an undergraduate, very few students are able to gain hands-on interview experience.
With our respective groups, we first spent some time drafting initial interview questions and thinking about general ideas for our conversations with the Japanese students. We also emailed our respective interviewee and made an appointment for the online interview. Professor Reiher had assigned three general topics for the interviews: 1) changes to our interview partner’s daily life due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2) changes with regard to their food practices and 3) the situation of restaurants in Japan during the pandemic. Aside from that, all groups were given complete freedom when it comes to the questions and conducting the interviews. Therefore, every group approached the topic from a slightly different angle. A common problem for us that came up during preparation was estimating how many questions we could ask during one interview of approximately 30-60 minutes.
What did we learn from this experience? Every interview is unique. We realized that one can hardly ask every question in the order one has prepared beforehand. That is because it would disturb the flow of the interviews. The interviewer must take into consideration that questions might become irrelevant, or he/she has to adjust them according to the context. It might also be necessary to develop new questions on the spot to keep up the flow, to react to the interviewees answers or to further elaborate on a certain topic. It is therefore very important to stay flexible and listen closely to what the interviewee has to say. It is better to go with the flow, because most of the time it is not possible to foresee the whole interview situation and tailor specific questions beforehand. We found writing down major questions that guide one through the interview very helpful, but everything else depended on chance, good luck and skills.
This year’s participants in the method course at Freie Universität Berlin
We also realized that it is not easy to conduct an interview and to simultaneously jot down notes. This is a skill that needs further practice. Fortunately, we will have the chance to interview more people during the next weeks. Furthermore, the special situation of conducting interviews online should be mentioned. It is a great opportunity to be able to conduct interviews online with people living 9000 kilometers away. But bad sound quality, unreliable WiFi and confusing appointments because of time differences are some of the problems we had to face.
Finally, we would like to extend a warm thank you to all the participating Seikei University students and to Professor Yoko Kawamura for giving us the opportunity to have interesting conversations and to learn about conducting interviews as part of social science research.
*Tony Pravemann and Antonia Vesting are students at Freie Universität Berlin’s Japanese Studies MA Program.