Discussions with an Undergraduate Researcher

The following is the record of an interview with 4th year CWRU student Tori Hamilton. She’s getting ready to graduate with her degree in Sociology:

Can you take me through what research you’ve done/ are currently working on?

Last semester I completed my capstone project titled “Restaurants, Re-Entry, and Recidivism: A Qualitative Analysis of Cleveland’s Re-Entry Programs,” which was a series of interviews I conducted with individuals working on re-entry programs as well as hiring formerly incarcerated people. In total, I interviewed two individuals working in Cleveland for culinary training programs that work with formerly/currently incarcerated individuals, and two employers in the area–one of which runs a restaurant. I looked to better understand the roles that these programs took on, and how they functioned within Cleveland’s community.

In short, I found that these two programs were really successful because they were able to provide small learning environments that easily facilitated individual relationships and comprehensive resources. Nearly everyone interviewed also stressed the restaurant industry as a good match for people with records as it allowed entry without a formal college degree, and also was desperate for back of the house (kitchen) workers. I also found that barriers can exist for individuals who have theft/violent crimes on their records, both within prisons and in employers looking to hire in the area.

What got you interested in this field of study?

I took my first sociology class after hearing about sociology at one of those “major fair” things my first year, and I was immediately hooked. I started to become more interested in the issue of incarceration and criminal justice my second year after taking a class on racial injustice and mass incarceration. I was so interested in the field because it helped me better understand the problems I was seeing in the world. I saw sociology as a path to better understanding some of the most pressing issues so that I could better work on them and approach with solutions.

What challenges have you encountered while doing your research?

I mainly struggled with two things during my research: nonresponse and a lack of direction. I am really excited about sociology in general, so at first it was hard for me to pick a specific topic and study it in depth. I also really had trouble getting in contact with some businesses, they’re all so busy! But I was really lucky to have a lot of support from my capstone professor (Dr. Karie Feldman) who helped guide me and get me in contact with some individuals for my research.

How has doing this research changed your perspective on this field?

I was so exhausted after doing a write-up after a four person interview, and I definitely realized that a full qualitative project would take a lot of time and patience. I didn’t realize when I started just how long it would take to transcribe one interview, and how difficult it is to sort through all of that information to find what is most important. I definitely gained a lot of respect for Sociologists doing any research as my classmates and I struggled through our projects! I also learned that I really enjoy hearing other people’s experiences and stories, and that if I was pursuing further education in sociology I would probably be doing that type of work.

What would you say to someone looking to get into research in your field?

I would tell someone interested in research to start as early as you can! Learning how to best collect data is a challenge, and learning to interpret is an ever-changing process too. The best way (at least for me) to really learn something is to do break out of the comfort zones of books and articles and into people’s lives!

Interview conducted by Viral Mistry

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