Finding and interviewing strangers
August 19, 2009 3:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I contact strangers in higher education to help me with grad school interview projects?

I'm frequently required by my grad school classes to interview higher education professionals (faculty, administrators, lawyers, and so on) on various topics. Sometimes the interviews are quick questions, and sometimes they are rather lengthy. It's almost always required that the interviewee is from an institution with which I am not affiliated (my grad school or my employer). Occasionally, the interviews are to be completed on very short notice (a few days).

I generally send friendly emails to several potential interview candidates, or those who can put me in touch with candidates (for example, the secretary of a student affairs office when I need to interview a student affairs administrator). The response is occasionally (OK, rarely) positive and helpful, but often there is no response or one that is too delayed to be of help. The most luck I've had has come from begging friends on Facebook to hook me up with friends they know in higher ed, but I'd rather learn how to do this on my own.

I can understand not being immediately available for such a favor, but is there any way to make the prospect more appealing or target more willing candidates?

(Note: I do not have any such projects on my plate at the moment. I'm not trying to use this question to fish for candidates.)
posted by dayintoday to Education (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As an academic administrator myself I'll tell you what would work for me. An e-mail sent directly to me in which you identify yourself as a student in program X in Y university and then in 2-3 sentences (absolutely no more) tell me about the nature of the project and precisely what you want from me (must include amount of time you expect) and when you want it. The whole e-mail should be 5-6 sentences. I must feel that you know what you are doing and that I will not be wasting my time or expected to do your homework/shape your project (I'd feel that way if you couldn't precisely tell me the nature of your project). And, by the way, if you wrote to my assistant asking her to communicate to me, I'd say no to you. Be direct please and confident and respectful.
posted by Pineapplicious at 3:43 PM on August 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you! Sadly, that's almost exactly the type of email I send. I even offer different ways of interviewing (email or phone) and an approximate time estimate (usually around 20 minutes). However it's certainly possible I ramble on too much about the project and could keep it more direct. Also, thanks for the tip re: secretaries/assistants. I'll definitely go the straight-to-the-administrator route next time.

I should note that I am also an academic administrator (my post probably made it sound like I'm a young'un, but I'm actually an old'un going back to school part time), and one who wouldn't think twice about making the time if such a note was sent to me. The lack of response from others in the field is frustrating to me but also understandable. Maybe it would help to let potential interviewees know that I also work in the field so they don't think I'm some random kid asking for homework help?
posted by dayintoday at 6:00 PM on August 19, 2009

As a faculty member, there's very little chance that I would respond to this kind of request at all, much less in the time period you've given. Unfortunately, there isn't anything in it (so far as you've described) for the people you contact. If they're simply assignments that won't be published, there's even less incentive. If you could be more specific about your work, I would be happy to help you with your pitch.
posted by B-squared at 6:04 PM on August 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you! I appreciate your honesty. It's a shame, but there is nothing in it for the faculty or administrators asked. It's typically posed to us (the students) as a small portion of an assignment or informal discussion post ("Contact 5 faculty members and ask their position on the following statements..." or "Interview a member of general counsel at a college or university and pose the following questions regarding compliance...").
posted by dayintoday at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2009

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