The following description is an attempt to capture the visual details of one of the subjects I observed during practice research. Specifically, it is based on my field notes about one of the employees I observed.
The girl behind the deli counter looked like she was a college student. She was of average height, thin, and pale, and she tended to keep her eyes down when talking to a customer. Her uniform included a green apron and a baseball cap with the cafe’s company logo on the front. From my previous experience working in food service, I knew the cap was part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations on food service requirements:
“Workers should not wear loose-fitting clothing, jewelry, or other items that could become entangled in machinery, and long hair should be worn under a cap or otherwise contained to prevent entanglement in moving machinery.”
In full compliance, the worker’s auburn hair was pulled back in a pony tail which was tucked through the opening in the back of her cap. A few stray tufts of hair stuck out from under the cap, and she had smoothed them back behind her ears. She wore glasses, and the glasses held a bit of the stray hair back at the temples. The pony tail was tied back with a white elastic band, and the tail hung down to about the middle of her back. When she turned from side to side, I noticed that the falls of hair gathered in the tail were wavy and loose. The waves made it seem like her hair didn’t want to be restrained by cap, elastic, and glasses. Instead it seemed as though it should be worn in auburn falls across her shoulders, free from restrictions and OSHA regulations.
OSHA regulations also require you to wash your hands after touching your hair, though I doubt anyone would object to the girl making a cup of coffee after she brushed a stray strand of hair back over her ear, denying it its attempt to find freedom.
Overall, I’d consider all of my “practice research” to be a good learning experience, but not an all-around success. One of the biggest issues I have with human interaction is overcoming my shyness and actually going up to talk to people. The cafe employee described above is someone I observed while lurking behind bookshelves, without actually interacting with her. At one point, I considered making a purchase in order to initiate an interaction, but the sodas at the cafe were $1.95, and I only had about $1.45 left on hand after buying a chai tea and a bagel earlier in the afternoon.
Even during the field research scene I depicted, it was my fellow researcher, Veronica, who actually approached the cashier and engaged her in conversation. We learned far more about the bookstore from her, from the employee concerns to the issues with students, than we ever would have simply by observing from a distance.
This limitation tells me what I will need to do when it comes time for the real thing. I feel like I have a handle on taking notes, reviewing them, and compiling them into a coherent scene. However, I’ll need to be more outgoing and engaging in order to get the kind of interactions I need to really learn about my research subjects. There’s only so much one can learn from a distance. Everyone has a story to tell, but you have to go up and talk to them before they can start telling it.