Today I completed the fifth and last interview with one of my participants. This means that I have been allowed to follow her, and like her a number of other women, for just around two years of their lives; a real privilege. Of course, as in other longitudinal research, not all my participants have been interested in this kind of commitment and the follow-ups from me.
Of the 31 participants who participated in the first interview it looks like around half will be following through over the two-year period. There are multiple potential reasons for why some chose to only take part in one or a few interviews. Some explicitly said that they were no longer interested when I contacted them again six months later. Some did not respond to my text messages and phone calls; something I took for a passive ‘no thank you’. And some phone numbers seemed to no longer be active. For some participants I had emails as a back-up contact but I had chosen to not collect social media details out of respect for the participants’ privacy. That obviously made me vulnerable to phone numbers that change or phones that get lost.
While I wish that more participants had stayed in the project – I would love to know if a particular young woman got the internship she talked about, and if another continued her path out of a post-natal depression – I am aware this is a big ask and that after a couple of interviews it feels too much or irrelevant. Or simply that there was too much other stuff going on in their lives. Other research has also shown how it can be challenging for participants to meet again if the ‘great plans’ did not turn out so well.
For most of the young women who participated over a period of time, this has included various ups and downs. Their professional lives have seen difficulties such as struggles finding work or having doubts about one’s studies, but also positive highlights such as completing a qualification or feeling successful at work.
In their private lives, two characteristics dominate. One is unstable accommodation. Many have moved multiple times since the first time I met them; a pattern that is draining and creates instability. A second characteristic that many of these participants share is mental health problems. These take multiple shapes and have their own cycles, meaning that I have met with them during both good and difficult times.
For my participant today, as for most of the young women in the study, the professional and private spheres interact. Her mental health problems have meant that she had to give up on completing the programme she was studying, much to her own disappointment. Others have told about how applying for jobs or turning up to a job interview is more than a challenge when they are not feeling well. While some are in regular contact with therapists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, others seem to have difficulties accessing proper support.
While I still have a number of interviews to go, there are many mixed feelings involved in finishing these interviews and saying thank you to the participants for their commitment throughout the project. It is sad to say goodbye as I feel like I have come to know them fairly well – while of course being aware that I am presented with a very specific view into their lives, and that my participants have probably taken up a bigger role in my life than I have in theirs. They have been speaking openly about difficult and sensitive experiences and it is daunting to consider what I now have to do to make it worth their time and effort.