Guest Blog: Life of a Student Research Assistant

For the past 8 months we (Tulsi and Sarah) have been working for the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research as student Research Assistants on a grant pertaining to social isolation and loneliness amongst immigrant older adults living in Peel and Halton. The word “research” is often associated with ample amounts of searching, reading and learning, that ultimately can seem like a lot of work; making it a daunting job.

Almost any student can recall the stress and hours spent in front of a computer or in the library gathering information for an immensely important term paper or proposal, trying to find that one fact which made their entire paper credible. Luckily for us, being a Research Assistant is nothing like that experience. Instead, it has been captivating, intriguing and very exciting to uncover or discover new facts that contribute to our project.

We have been spending our time conducting various forms of qualitative and quantitative research, which has included Internet searches, structured interviews with agencies that provide services for older adults, and of course literature reviews. All these approaches are fundamental to the process of research but of course, come without their struggles.

The project started with gathering agency information and creating a database of particular agencies that provided services to older adults and older immigrants in Peel and Halton. After creating our database, we moved on to the next phase of scheduling interviews with a selection of agencies. Little did we know that we were about to enter a game of cat and mouse (most commonly known as ‘phone tag’). Contacting agencies was very easy, however scheduling and conducting the agency interviews took time and required immense patience. We realized that the reason behind this was that most agencies or organizations are extremely busy or are run by volunteers who have multiple responsibilities and duties within as well as outside the agencies.

Another key piece of learning that we came across was that faith communities are filling a service gap and meeting the needs of isolated and lonely immigrant older adults, however, they are also the hardest to reach out to. We learned this is because they are hidden within the pockets of their community and operate without funding but with their own resources, which means they may not have a designated person around to answer emails/phone calls. To address this we created a different outreach strategy to connect with faith communities, which included personalized letters and follow-up phone calls.

As we wrap up the last few weeks of our summer contract, we are looking forward to the next chapter of our research. This will include identifying and interviewing isolated and lonely older immigrants. After 8 months of research and learning about this population, we will finally get the chance to talk to the main focus of our project. We are certain there will be struggles, however we are very excited and eager to move forward.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Sarah joined the Centre for Elder Research in January 2016 as a student research assistant on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant. Sarah completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at McMaster University in 2015 specializing in human geography and world religion. Sarah is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker – General Stream program at Sheridan College. Working at the Centre has given Sarah the opportunity to apply classroom learning in to real life research. Sarah hopes to continue to work with older adults after graduating in April 2017.

Tulsi is part of the Centre for Elder Research as a Research Assistant under the SSHRC grant. After having completed her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo in 2014, Tulsi is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker – Gerontology program at Sheridan College. Being a part of the Centre for Elder Research has given her the opportunity to apply her science and gerontology knowledge into various aspects of applied research.


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