Getting back out there…doing research while masked up

Photo of woman wearing mask

This week our team visited a high school in Essex to talk to sixth formers about their experiences of Covid-19 in terms of the impact to their mental health, relationships, education and future opportunities.

This was a continuation of some research that began last year, where a group of young people filmed their experiences of returning to school in September 2020, following periods of lockdown and home schooling.

Our visit had been planned for a little while, and like most other in-person work events that had optimistically been put in my diary ahead of time, I assumed it would be cancelled when it got closer…But alas, discussions were had, safety measures were put in place and we got the green light to go ahead!

Updated guidance meant that all pupils were now expected to wear face masks in classrooms, so this went for us researchers too.

There’s been very little opportunity to do face-to-face research since the you-know-what happened, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done any engagement in a school.

So I felt a little out of practice and also wasn’t too sure how face masks might affect our ability to engage with the young people.

But other than having to speak up a bit louder and voices being slightly muffled, the masks didn’t seem to make too much difference and the young people didn’t really seem phased by it.

It was a fast paced session with groups rotating between different tables for conversations around particular themes, and for the most part the young people were happy to give their views (some with a little more encouragement than others!)

Despite not immediately recognising one of my masked colleagues in ‘real life’ on arrival (I blame the fringe, sorry Liz), it was surprising how well you can still interpret people’s expressions even when half of their face is covered up – it’s all in the eyebrows!

Most of the young people seemed to deal with it well, and the general feeling among them was that this is just life now.

I realised that while I might have become a hermit (or at least had the luxury of working from home full-time), many others have had no choice but to get out there and carry on with their lives for school or work. So while I’ve only really had cause to wear a mask to pop into a shop as quickly as possible, it’s become the norm for many to wear them for long periods, and get used to communicating with those around them.

So, is this the future? I hope not. But when needs must, it wasn’t so bad and shows that there are ways of doing face-to-face research safely in a pandemic, and that we shouldn’t shy away from getting back out there.

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