“I’M ALIVE!!!111!”

*sticks one hand out of grave*

There is currently an electrical storm going on quite near where I live (judging by the decipherable fork lightning outside my window) to provide an atmosphere. For anybody with a bit of time, or a severe need to procrastinate, I give you a 3-in-1 post. (For the impatient, the pictures are at the end.)

Quick update:

VPN issues mean that I have been stuck behind the arguably most famous firewall in the world, but I am now back from the (previously, I hope) forsaken. I am pleased to say that work is working, I am “enjoying” life as one of those people who hand out surveys about their research “in the field”.

I have also upgraded from constantly carrying a 500ml bottle of water around, to carrying a 1.5l bottle of water around with me. I have experienced 43 degrees Celsius in person for the first time. Didn’t like it much.

If anybody feels the need to mention my tan upon my return, I can inform you that I have not been “working on it” other than having commutes that mean I have to walk from A to B sometimes, where A and B represent any two of home, the bus, the canteen, the self-study area, the museum, the supermarket/mall area, and the karaoke bar*.

The work low-down:

I will be the first to call myself a survey-rookie. I have done interviews for work before. I have certainly conducted scientific experiments, and done the subsequent mathematics. But surveying on my own, and on this scale, is new. And because life is never hard enough, I am looking at a Chinese audience, who every academic and museum-staff will tell me will be “not very responsive at best (sic)”. Even with a helper on some days, things tend to go quite slowly, and occasionally I tell myself that at least I can count on the whole experience as things that will tell me audience attitudes towards the science museum, and by extension therefore, the science.

Of the visitors who want to avoid me, I will admit that the ones who carry the facial expressions “awkward, this-is-so-embarrassing-for-YOU, a la US teen movies, -smile”, or “smacked arse, ignoring-you, weird person” aggravate me quite a bit. Although I suspect this is because I am secretly a little old lady who thinks that rudeness is unnecessary. However, facial expressions I can overlook. Most often, I try once to persuade people who have given a wavering “no thank you” (note, those who are firm in their answer I leave alone) to “maybe have a look anyway?” before I move on. Quite a few of the avoiders will excuse themselves in various ways. Some seem legit (eyesight issues, just arrived, etc.), but one never really knows. I personally take it on the chin. After all, it’s not supposed to be personal (I hope). For fun though, here are some examples of what my targets have responded when they didn’t want to take the survey, let me know what you make of them:

  • “I don’t understand [the survey].” My friend here at PKU suggested that people get “confused” by the fact that my survey is bilingual. Although this has, in the past and also just earlier today, led to some people *taking* the survey because they wanted to look at the English. (As for the Chinese, I am willing to bet that all the survey-takers here are better at Chinese than yours truly.)
  • “I never had a proper look around.” This usually comes from matriarchs, who I’m guessing have brought younger members of the family. (This makes me, personally and as a member of club interactivity-with-other-people-is-the-best-type-of-interaction, a little sad. And also concerned about how common this sight is: children roaming the place, parents on the benches. Not really helping the “growing up” of the science museums has a science communication platform.)
  • “I’ve just arrived.” Uttered 30 minutes before closing time.
  • “I’m not interested.” I guess this is also legit, but if we take a step back, this is also them being disinterested in a place they trust to educate their children about science.
  • “I don’t have time.” From people who, as I have been working my way down one side of the “atrium”, I have seen sat at one end, chatting, and not looking like they will be looking at any exhibits anytime soon. And this was not at closing time. They can say what they want, but I say that chats are best carried out in coffee shops. Not least because there are fewer kids with nerf guns in those.
  • “I don’t have any thoughts.” Usually in response to my opening gambit, ending in “we welcome any and all opinions and thoughts on [the science communication work at the museum], would you be interested in contributing…? (sic, because I change it up sometimes).” No comment.

Is this a bit mean? Perhaps I can counter it with the things I *have* tried in order to make this survey more digestible:

  • How I dress: dress up (looking good and professional… and a little up myself); dress casual (more friendly and less serious… but will then have to carry uni ID to prove I’m serious); borrow museum volunteer/staff outfit (could be good to look official, but some people are suspicious of large organisations and are *more* trustful if I’m just an independent researcher).
  • Where I say I’m from: “I work with the museum.” No extra questions asked, but see the above statement about belonging to the museum; “I’m jointly-trained by PKU and UoM (my two universities right now).” … … “Sorry say that again?”; “I’m a PhD at PKU.” Apparently people hold a grudge along the lines of “you think you’re something just because you’re at a top uni?”; “I’m a PhD at UoM.” This generally works the best, as I have a Manchester logo on my surveys, and somehow Chinese people still generally think favourably of the West (?). Another friend here at PKU even suggested I take a blond(e) friend to help me.
  • Opening gambit: it is currently “I’m from [whatever I say on the day], and I am investigating the public attitudes towards science communication in this museum.” *hands over survey and pen* “don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions about the survey or the project.” Seems to do the job. I used to have an info sheet as well, but that seemed to double the length of time it took to do one survey (yes, I have to stand by when they are filling it in to guarantee that they do it properly, and I that I will get it back).
  • This is the fifth or sixth edition of this survey. It has been edited, trialled, and edited again. It has now been reduced to almost all multiple choice.
  • It rests at a page and a half, because I’ve make the font bigger and easier to read under the low levels of lighting** that seems universal to science museums.
  • The above has the side effect of people skimming the questions and going “it’s so long!”
  • Can’t win.
  • Sometimes parents pass the survey to their children (below secondary school), and I force a smile as the kid eeny-meeny-miny-moes their way to answer questions involving words “political”, “corporate”, etc.
  • Now I’ve taken to gently nudging parents to fill the form themselves while I entertain their children by explaining exhibits to them.
  • Teachers, tour-guides (at rest), and young people 16-23ish seem most willing to take part.

Any thoughts at all about methods are supremely welcome in the comments.

The photos***:

At the beginning of my stay, it didn’t rain for weeks on end. (This is the planetarium. And a flagpole.)
And now. This is the rain falling into the canal in the Olympic Park. Yes, the science museum is in the Olympic Park here.
Also in the Olympic Park… What is this? One guess.
On more homely grounds: a broth with pork, lots of leafy greens, tofu skin, glass noodles, and rice.
“Are you going to the shop? Get me a drink?” What would you like?
I did indulge in a little road trip with the departmental friends. Here we are at a service station. Snazzy.
Here we are at a toll booth. Majestic.
Finally, here is a scenic spot on the border between provinces Hebei and Inner Mongolia. Be happy you can’t hear the traffic whizzing past my back as I took this.

*This one less often… … sadly.

**What is up with this, science museums? Is it because of all the lighting details? To add to the mystique? Hm.

***In true hipster spirit: I am also on instagram, where I post random photographs, mostly of food, with more urgency than I do on the blog.


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