Don’t be afraid to get creative with your research methods,
adds Morales. In one of his current research projects, Morales
asks Latino immigrants to take photographs of places that make
them feel welcome and places that feel inhospitable. He then asks
each participant to pick three photos and explain why they elicit
certain feelings. Morales also asks his participants to keep a diary
of their experiences. Both of these techniques garner information
that traditional interviews or surveys wouldn’t necessarily
provide, he says.
“More and more, we’re being challenged to be more
creative in how we collect data that will help us answer difficult
questions,” says Morales.
Lumping all immigrants together
Look at the psychology literature on immigrant groups and
you’ll find studies that don’t explain whether the participants
are immigrants, first-generation Americans or ethnic minorities
in general, says Birman. In addition to these factors, researchers
need to consider where participants emigrated from, under what
conditions and when.
“The assumption is that somehow [all immigrant] experience
is the same, but we know that it’s very different,” says Birman.
Another often-ignored variable is age at arrival in the United
States. “What it means for children to change culturally is
very different than for an adult whose identity is already well
established,” she says.
Working in isolation
Even if you have good support from your department and
advisor, it’s wise to make connections with researchers in fields
other than psychology, says Morales.
Investigators in sociology, education, economics and medicine,
for example, can offer insights about immigrant populations that
may not be otherwise apparent, he notes. A physician could tell
you about obstacles immigrants face in getting essential health
care, while an educator might explain how being bilingual affects
academic success for immigrant children. Attending conferences is
a great way to make connections, he adds.
Technology makes it easier for students to connect and
network with researchers outside of their own academic
community, says Morales. “Skype can be a great tool to have
videoconferences with researchers all over the world,” he says.
Some students also use Skype to collect interview data, he adds.
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Conducting research with immigrant
populations can be daunting, and you may
be tempted to abandon them as a study
population. But don’t get discouraged, says
“It’s important to do this work” to
understand this growing dimension of U.S.
society, she says.
Plus, you don’t want to pass up on the
chance to learn from the strength and
resilience of immigrants, many of whom
have overcome huge odds to live in this
country, says Simon.
“In my eyes, every immigrant I’ve met is
a hero,” she says. n
Rebecca Voelker is a writer in Chicago.
Four California campuses
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Learn more about the
psychology of immigration
and read a new report by
the Presidential Task Force
on Immigration at www.