A conversation with Dr. Christian Seiter on How to become a professional researcher

By: Carlo Malig, Alex Lopez, Simone Spencer, and Anthony Tran

Christian Seiter, courtesy of CSUF

The Study titled “COVID-19 Risk Perceptions and Intentions to Engage in Familial Advance Care Planning: The Mediating Role of Death Anxiety” explores the impact of COVID-19 risk perceptions on intentions to engage in familial advance care planning (ACP) and the mediating role of death anxiety. The study surveyed 353 adults in the United States using an online survey. The results showed that COVID-19 risk perceptions were positively associated with intentions to engage in familial ACP, and that this relationship was partially mediated by death anxiety. The authors suggest that the findings may inform strategies to increase ACP engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic by addressing death anxiety as a barrier to ACP.

We spoke with one of the authors that conducted this study, Dr. Christian Seiter. Dr. Seiter is a professor of Human Communication at California State University, Fullerton. He specializes in social psychology, specifically in the areas of persuasion and social influence, aggression, and interpersonal communication. Dr. Seiter has published numerous articles and book chapters in the field of social psychology/communication and has received several awards for his teaching and research, including the Outstanding Professor Award from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Cal State Fullerton. 

Our team had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Seiter and ask him a few questions regarding his research process behind this study as well as tips on how to become a better researcher.

Looking back, what would you have done differently when conducting this research study, given its cross-sectionality and overall sampling process, to achieve more reliable and consistent results? 

It is important to understand that cross-sectional research involves gathering data from a specific population of interest at a particular point in time. This study design aims to describe and evaluate the prevalence, distribution, and correlation of various factors or variables. In this case, as for Dr. Seiter’s goal of conducting his experiment, “using a cross-sectional approach is not ideal, particularly for a behavior like advance care planning,” he says. This is due to the fact that a topic like advance care planning is more of a long-term behavior. 

In other words, longitudinal research involves collecting data from a specific group of individuals or subjects over a period of time. This study design enables researchers to monitor changes in variables or factors over time and explore their correlation with other factors or variables. While longitudinal research has significant benefits such as trend identification, monitoring changes over time, and establishing causality between variables, it also has methodological challenges, such as attrition, and can be both time-consuming and expensive, according to Dr. Seiter. Cross-sectional research, on the other hand, only provides a snapshot of a population at a specific point in time, but it can be more cost-effective and faster to complete. 

In essence, the biggest takeaway Dr. Seiter left with our conversation was the importance of understanding the assignment at hand. It is important to remember when conducting a research study developing a methodology framework is crucial since it offers a structured approach to the research process, ensuring that the study is carried out in a systematic, logical, and efficient manner. This framework outlines the necessary steps that researchers must take to achieve their research objectives and provides a reference for making decisions throughout the research process.

Going into this study did you have any personal biases that you felt prevented you from researching this topic professionally?

 Dr. Seiter noted that to prevent his quantitative study from receiving bias, he introduced co-authors to review and edit his findings and research. In addition to this, validated measures, including screening and questionnaires, were used to prevent research bias from occurring, as well as to ensure reliable and accurate results. A major takeaway that we learned from this section of the interview was recognizing the importance of having a team of multiple researchers to review any data. Lastly, Dr. Seiter noted that a researcher must be provisional in their findings and become open to possible studies or existing findings changing during or after the experiment. Overall, a professional researcher cannot be close-minded when it comes to unstable and constantly changing data during a study. A takeaway we received from the conversation with Dr. Seiter was that to become a professional researcher, one must stay professional in their mindset and must learn to separate the experiment from personal experiences to prevent bias from disrupting data.

From doing this study, what was the most shocking thing you have learned or just understood while doing the study? 

“Shocking in a more scary way”, Dr. Seiter states; is that the more relevant death is, the harder it will be to get people to talk about it. He also mentioned that the fewer people talk about death communication or end-of-life communication, the more people will feel guilty about the decisions made after death. While explaining the importance of an ACP, advanced care plan, Dr. Seiter theorizes that this could potentially resolve the previous issue of uncertain decisions made after death. He uses a fictional example of speaking to a mother where if he was put in a position to be on a ventilator for more than 6 months, then the mother can pull the plug knowing that she had his permission.

One of the important statements we learned from this section of the interview is that Dr. Setier states that death communication or end-of-life communication is not so much for the patient, but for those who live on after. This gives a sense of confidence in decision making which a lot of people live with that regret after death. Psychologically, if people were more aware, or in theory terms, had more self-efficacy towards this subject; then the more people will take action and create a plan for the future if someone does reach the end of their life.

From this study, we wanted to learn and understand the importance of not only gathering data, but creating learning opportunities for society to grasp new concepts and factual evidence from any study. Dr. Seiter not only is a professor, but a researcher, and having factual evidence from his studies has shown him that not many people want to learn about why certain topics are harder to grasp or discuss.

Do you have any tips or advice for students going through the research process? What have you learned as a result of conducting this survey? 

Dr. Seiter notes that communications studies allow you to tap into different disciplines. Having said this, we as a group look to give our study more depth. Professor Seiter states that as we conduct our own research, we have the ability to explore different fields to utilize different theories and frame them in a way that better supports our research process. He explains how using theories such as “terror management” provided more richness to his overall study. 

When working together as a group, Professor Seiter also touches on providing for group members in areas they might struggle with. Identifying our strengths during the research process gives us a better idea of how we can work together more efficiently. Throughout the interview, he also says we should be more open-minded when using different methodologies. As researchers, we want to take advantage of what works best in our area of study.

The biggest takeaway from this section of the interview is that our group should learn to be more open and creative in the future while going through the research process. When it comes to the content of the study, looking outside of the communication discipline allows us to expand on our research analysis.

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