ASPA Member Highlight – Rachel Tang, Qualitative Research Manager and Specialist, Social Sciences Research Laboratories, College of Arts and Science

Written by Karen E. Mosier

Rachel Tang obtained her Bachelor of Arts with High Honours in Psychology in 2013. The entirety of her 8 years of employment at the University has been with the Social Sciences Research Laboratories. She started at the SSRL in January of 2012 as a Student Research Interviewer in the Survey and Group Analysis Laboratory (SGAL). She excelled as an interviewer and was promoted to Assistant Survey Research Manager in 2013.  Rachel also worked as a transcriptionist for the Qualitative Research Laboratory (QRL) beginning in 2012. She started the role of Qualitative Research Coordinator for the QRL in September of 2014. In April of 2015, she was promoted to Qualitative Research Manager and Specialist, the role she currently holds.

As Qualitative Research Manager Rachel provides leadership, management and strategic direction to ensure the long-term maintenance and viability of the QRL by offering her own talents or calling upon her talented QRL team (which is a staff of about 10-15 research assistants). Together, QRL staff and management serve to meet the research service and training needs of those undertaking qualitative research. The research support services offered include transcription, data collection (recruitment and/or administering interviews, moderating focus groups), analysis and report writing. Additionally, training and consultation has involved educating individuals or small groups on research design or methodological guidance, collecting qualitative data, and analysis (mainly through the use of NVivo software). Undergraduate students transcribe the information, while graduate students or CUPE technicians perform analyses and prepare reports. It is her responsibility to ensure all of these services are delivered with high quality and in a timely manner. This often means that she takes on any of these tasks herself where need be. Administratively she must maintain budgets for each project, track project information, produce reports and generate quotes, contracts, and invoices. Operationally, she makes sure there are enough staff and technical resources (updated transcription and analysis software, foot pedals) to keep the lab operating at capacity on a daily basis. On any given day, there are about 30 projects that require her attention and she has to know where each one is at in its project life cycle.

Rachel considers herself lucky in that she feels that she found a job that was meant for her. The range of topics to be explored and tackled by qualitative research is boundless. Over the span of her time in this position, she has been privy to listen to, transcribe, or analyze first-hand accounts of experience related to sexual harassment, domestic abuse, ALS, breast cancer, MS, prostate cancer, addictions, fatigue and burnout, health care access in Saskatchewan’s northern communities, cyberbullying, food insecurity, mental health struggles, police job satisfaction, decisions regarding motherhood, sustainability policy and practice, truck driver wellness – to name a few! She hears in a really raw, candid and vulnerable way, how people really feel about topics that concern us all or what individuals have to live with on a daily basis either due to trauma or current life conditions, such as chronic or terminal illness. She realizes what a privilege and gift it is to be entrusted with these stories, even if for a moment, and she will be forever grateful that she got the chance to honour each participants’ narrative in some way or other. People who are willing to share their life stories, however painful or private, for the betterment of others, or so that history’s mistakes aren’t repeated, are the true heroes. If there is anything she has learned from working here this long, it is just how much important work is being done on this campus to make life better for all citizens locally, provincially, nationally and even at the global level.

What motivates Rachel to keep going is the clientele. It’s knowing she has supported individuals or teams with their hard work and that the results have great potential to make a positive impact on people’s lives. It is inspiring and reassuring to know that around her there is no shortage of movers and shakers who recognize when the status quo has become a disservice and want to move the needle in a better direction. It is an honour and privilege to be invited to engage in their work, even if only peripherally. All of this; the exposure to the human experience, the gift of supporting good work, the caliber of research happening around her, and the multitude of ways she is able to be involved, motivate her to always do her best with each and every project that crosses her path.

There is a pragmatic layer to all this and a need to be practical too. From her studies in psychology and working at the SSRL, Rachel learned quickly how to work within constraints to produce the most meaningful insights from limited resources. In the realm of academic research, funding is limited, budgets are limited, and people’s time is limited. So she always tries to offer support in a way that helps a researcher get the most out of their project while maintaining methodological and ethical rigor.

Rachel has been an ASPA member for 5 years and counting. She values being part of a community that has shared interests at the forefront like employee equity and well-being. She is grateful for the people that volunteer their time and expertise to advocate for the best possible benefits and compensation according to what members express as their wants and needs. She is confident knowing that ASPA is here for her to reach out to for support if necessary. Rachel also appreciates social events like the pizza lunches that give her opportunities to engage with other ASPA members. Her advice to other ASPA members is, “Attend the AGM so that you are informed on what your union is doing for you, as well as what changes are ahead. Engage. Respond to surveys. That is the way in which you can add your ‘two cents’. Utilize your benefits to the max. Self-care and mental health are crucial. There is a reason those before have fought hard for those benefits. Use them; particularly the ones that renew each year.”   Most of all Rachel is grateful for her work and the union behind her, and she does not take either for granted.

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