Reflecting on AAPOR 2013

It is a pleasure to share my observations about the experience of attending the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) 2013 conference. I received the John Tarnai Memorial Scholarship to attend from the Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations (AASRO). When I agreed to write up a summary about my AAPOR 2013 experience, I was slightly skeptical about what content I would be able to provide. However, upon looking at my extensive collection of notes from the conference, I realize I could not possibly summarize everything I learned and there is much to be shared from attending an AAPOR conference.

IMG_0584.JPGIt is an invigorating experience to get to share in the knowledge of other individuals who embrace the same passions, experience the same trials and challenges, and are able to rejoice in our successes as fellow survey researchers. Set in the charming and historical city of Boston for 2013, AAPOR helps individuals feel a part of a whole, encourages attendees in their research, and urges us to share our stories with one another. The conference certainly nurtures the collaboration between researchers and brings up thought provoking questions. By attending the AAPOR conference, I have been able to make personal and professional network connections, learn from and meet the individuals who are “big wigs” in the field, and discover where to look for answers to questions I have and find solutions to problems I will encounter well after the conference.

Being an individual who is young in her professional career, I find the opportunity to attend conferences with my colleagues a wonderful way to get to know them better, in a completely different setting than the work environment, but still discussing topics that we all know. Sharing thoughts and exciting ideas as they are inspired through different sessions and then being able to collaborate over a meal generates concepts that can be extremely beneficial to the growth of the organization and might not come about in any other way. I highly recommend individuals take any opportunity to attend conferences and take the time to collaborate with others, bringing back new and innovative ideas to their jobs, either for the organization as a whole or personally.

IMG_0592.JPGI was also provided with an opportunity to try new food and discover a city I had never been to before. Fresh oysters and a lobster roll were among the delicious foods that found their way on to my plate. Experiencing the Freedom Trail, Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market and the Boston Tea Party Museum were all exciting ways to add to the memorable experience of attending the conference.

I knew that I wanted to attend a wide variety of sessions. There is much to be gained from listening to something you would not normally think about. You never know what nugget of information you will come away with that applies to a problem you were trying to solve. I will not be able to cover all the sessions I attended here, since a summary of that would be enormous, but I have listed below findings I found interesting, or general observations that occurred to me during each day of the conference.

Thursday 5/16 observations:

  • The first session I attended was on the topic of mode and survey error. This was especially timely as I take on a project soon mixing modes. I learned or reinforced ideas about offering multiple modes at the same time. This can actually reduce response rates by forcing the individual to make a choice.
  • Other researchers are struggling with exactly how to optimize web surveys for tablets and smartphones and we are not alone in the struggle to determine how best to approach this challenge.
  • Poster sessions offer a wide variety of unique research projects, although I find it difficult to take in all the good information in that format. It is very helpful to talk to the individuals conducting the research.
  • The final concurrent session on Thursday was of particular interest to me, as it focused on the role of blogs in public opinion research. I came away very inspired by the 7 individuals who graciously shared their blogging experience, including The Survey Geek by Reg Baker, LoveStats by Annie Pettit, FreRangeResearch by Casey Tesfaye, Researchscape by Jeffrey Henning, and SurveyPost by Adam Sage at RTI. There was good discussion about content, frequency, audience, and process from all participants. Expect to see many of the ideas I came away with implemented in a CSR blog in the future. I am now reading the blogs of more individuals in survey research and can glean more information from them well after the conference is over.

Friday 5/17 observations:

  • During one of the Friday sessions I was struck with a thought: All we do all day long is ask questions. Survey researchers are the people tasked with making sure we get accurate answers.
  • Panel sessions are nice. The presentations are all cohesive and frequently well presented. The paradata discussion, based on the book Improving Surveys with Paradata, edited by Frauke Kreuter that will be released shortly, was very professional and provided a great in-depth look at many different ways to collect and analyze paradata using more than just timestamps. We at IU CSR are lucky to have programmers that are able to easily collect paradata in a way we can analyze. Not all survey shops have easy ways to attain that valuable information and we should make good use of it, sharing our findings with others.
  • Many sessions, while not necessarily directly applicable to a project I am working on currently, can spur at least one applicable nugget of information.
  • As you attend more and more sessions, you start to be able to tie the knowledge and findings together. This year’s Presidential address by Paul Lavrakas was speaking to total survey error, which included coverage error, measurement error, sampling error, and nonresponse error, and these things were covered in the session earlier on panel data. The presentation reinforced the concepts I heard earlier and triggered new thoughts when I combined what I heard during each presentation.
  • Overarching message of the presidential address: At least consider each type of error when doing analysis instead of ignoring it because we know each type exists. Always address it when you have the capacity to do so. This is our responsibility as researchers.

Saturday 5/18 observations:

  • photo_2.JPGBy attending sessions focused on a wide variety of topics, I was able to reinforce my thoughts about what areas of survey research I am interested in. One of the Methodological Briefs sessions focused on questionnaire design and kept my interest through each presentation, solidifying my growing interest in multiple facets of questionnaire design.
  • At one point I heard the term “disambiguated” for the first time. I think it is a fantastic word I need to find a way to work that into a conversation at some point.
  • It is very fulfilling to see presentations done on research using surveys we spend lots of time thinking about on a daily basis. There were several studies conducted using the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that we at CSR hold an integral part in conducting every year.
  • At the AAPOR conference I am constantly surrounded by so many smart people and people with advanced degrees. It is very inspiring and keeps my ambition going to attain more education and conduct my own research.
  • One of my colleagues described the experience of eating oysters like eating the sea. I can attest to that. Also, a lobster roll with warm butter is delicious.

Sunday 5/19 observations:

  • The facilitator for the first Sunday morning session described the attendees as “AAPOR diehards” which I felt was fitting.
  • Even with some background in statistics I did not understand everything going on in the multiple imputation sessions. There is clearly more for me to learn about the vast field that is survey research and I am encouraged to keep learning even after the conference is done.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to AASRO for selecting me as the inaugural recipient of the John Tarnai Memorial Scholarship. I sincerely appreciate the encouragement and am honored to have received the award. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the AAPOR 2013 conference. Attending such a conference offers a wonderful opportunity to grow professionally and it is easy to be inspired by all the exciting research happening in our field. I will use this experience to follow the fantastic example set by John Tarnai by continuing to pursue my own professional development, encouraging the professional development of my colleagues, and sharing my learning with colleagues in order to strengthen our survey organization.

~Alycia Cameron