Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Data I Couldn't Collect

We all fear rejection. We put ourselves up for it in little ways every day. By the by, we're bound to fall flat on a joke, give the wrong answer in class, or get turned down when we ask for any of a million different favors. As common as it is though, we still dwell on our rejections, we still let them bother us. What could we have done differently? What could have been their reason? What is it about me that they didn't like?

After a week of conducting my independent project, I have a lot of rejection to think about.  My investigation was on bacterial contamination of cell phones, which involved a short survey and a swab participants' phones. We compared results between healthcare workers, hospital patients, and the general public. In order to do this, we had to recruit participants in San Vito Hospital and downtown San Vito. Mostly, we went up to people who seemed not to be doing anything more important and explained who we were and what we wanted to do. This introduction was maybe 15 seconds, but it was nerve-wracking each time. There is little that puts you at a higher chance of rejection than asking strangers to participate in your study, and there are few rejections in our normal lives that are as blunt and unapologetic.

After a while I got used to the idea of rejection, but each time still stuck in my head. What made this person say no? Which people were more likely to say yes? I started to pick up on some general trends. A 20-something waiting for the bus? Probably a safe bet. A septuagenarian waiting just outside the hospital doors? Brace yourself for the letdown. Hospital guards are usually interested and eager, but only if you explain a little bit about yourself and the study first. Patients at the pharmacy have nowhere else to go and if they're willing to make eye contact they're probably willing to participate. Interestingly enough, pharmacy and lab workers were rarely willing to participate. Even after the head pharmacist pleaded our case for us, rejection remained above two-thirds. It's possible that they were just too busy to participate, but it was still disappointing that these healthcare professionals were not interested enough in the study to give their time.

Unfortunately, the most noticeable trend was that I was rejected considerably more than my two peers. Initially I thought I may be looking unprofessional, but after shaving and putting on a collared shirt my success rate failed to climb.  Perhaps my rejections were related to my gender (I'm male and my co-investigators are female) or my exceptionally pale skin and foreign appearance. Maybe it was my long blond hair or some unknown flaw in my Spanish. I do know that my high rejection rate was consistent across both men and women, and was worse the older they got. I know it was worse in the general public than in patients or healthcare workers. The more people rejected me the better I got at predicting my hits and misses, but I never came closer to finding what my flaw was. With a big enough sample size it seems like I should have been able to figure it out, but as much information as I could pick up about my rejections, I never could figure out what it was in me they objected to.

- Carter Merenstein

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