An Interview With Dr. Elise Anguizola Assaf

Posted on 3

By Eve Montano, Hailey Gough, Zaira Garcia, and Montserrat Jijon

Elise Anguizola Assaf, courtesy of CSUF

Elise Assaf is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications; she teaches public relations and entertainment courses in the undergraduate communications program. In addition to her Ph.D. in Education from Chapman University, Dr. Assaf holds an M.A. in Communications and a B.A. in Communications, emphasis in public relations, from Cal State Fullerton. 

We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Assaf, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at Cal State Fullerton, about her involvement in the group research publication, An Analysis of Literature on Disability and Fear Throughout Life. We inquired about her experience conducting research, qualitative vs quantitative study, problems during the research process, prior knowledge about the topic, and her research goal. 

We discussed with Dr. Assaf about research interests and the methods she and her group used to complete, An Analysis of Literature on Disability and Fear Throughout Life. Dr. Assaf’s research interests include media representations of mental health, which combine her background in communication studies and disability studies. Her work examines linguistic elements and sources of power in texts through qualitative methods, such as content analysis and critical discourse analysis.

When discussing the publication, we learned that the research group of four people, including Dr. Assaf, came together and compromised on a topic that each could contribute passionate research. As each group member realized the workload in other areas was going to limit the data collection they could do, they thought this study “was a good preliminary way of looking at disability while still incorporating the different areas that each person was interested in,” said Dr. Assaf. The group split the research into categories of what they were interested in, for example, life expectancy, such as youth, grade school, adults, mental health, etc. By doing this, they could delegate the work and focus on topics they were more interested in. “Part of it was like what you are interested in, but also what experiences you have so that the analysis of the content made sense for our backgrounds, said Dr. Assaf.”

Dr. Assaf stated this study is qualitative with very basic number counting. Her team including herself consisted of disability studies qualitative researchers that are more interested in people stories rather than frequencies.

Source: Getty Images

How was the research process for An Analysis of Literature on Disability and Fear Throughout Life, a qualitative study, different than the process for a quantitative study?

As noted in the interview, Dr. Assaf said that there was very little interest for her group to look at their studies from a quantitative viewpoint “because in the disability studies field, [researchers are] more interested in people’s stories as opposed to frequencies.” Therefore, most of the group’s research focused on self-referent concepts versus numbers and logic, which are found in quantitative studies. “I want to hear people’s perspectives and what they’ve gone through, finding details in that, as opposed to quantifying how many people have gone through it,” Dr. Assaf says.

Another critical aspect of this research process was its lenient nature. As Dr. Assaf noted, the process of qualitative research has to be fluid. “As you get deeper into your research, your questions may change, unearthing a different line of thought and sending your study in an entirely different direction.” Through these continuous diversions, qualitative researchers find answers to questions they never thought to ask. “This is also the reason,” says Dr. Assaf, “that many qualitative research studies lack a hypothesis.” Overall, while quantitative studies seek concrete, numerical answers, qualitative analyses, such as these, look to understand a specific segment/topic deeply.

A quick overview of Dr. Assaf’s opinions about qualitative study and quantitative study.

What problems tend to arise during the research process? Specifically, qualitative research studies, and how do you deal with them?

According to Dr. Assaf, one difficulty her group faced occurred before the research truly began: finding a topic that each group member found adequately compelling. While this problem can arise in both qualitative and quantitative studies, it is an issue that researchers prefer to overcome before continuing the actual research.

When asked about the difficulties of trying to measure self-referent or personal responses, Dr. Assaf explained her thought process during qualitative research. “If you are a qualitative researcher, you can find very vivid detail and information in even one person’s story,” Dr. Assaf said. While information from interviews may not compile into concrete, numerical data, qualitative research is looking to gather more nuanced, personal, and less quantifiable aspects that influence people.

Before starting your research, did you already know any information about the topic that you were going to do? After the research was done, were your assumptions corrected or did you learn anything new?

Dr. Assaf explains that she was originally interested in disability and fear. Thus, she already knew some information and had her own opinions on the topic. Sometimes, it could be her personal perspectives about it as well. However, she explains how statements from other researchers include personal biases of what they are working on that also affect their work.

She personally has to filter out which information is reliable so she can use it in her work. Dr. Assaf explains how she has to look at what was being said by people in interviews. Then, she has to consider who was saying that information about people with disabilities. She learned that “The people with the diagnosis aren’t saying these things”. It is more about powerful people and authoritative people in our society giving out false statements. Therefore, ways of filtering out reliable information help her to transform her way of thinking and come up with some questions relating to her interest. Overall, she does not really focus on what she thinks before and after. She wants to prioritize what information she could get from sources and combine them together for the final work. This helps her to open up more for learning and revising her knowledge as well.

What was your research goal before starting this research? Did you have a hard time meeting your goal?

Dr. Assaf shares that she just wants to learn something new about this topic, which can be considered a personal goal. She mentions how much she has a big interest in disability and fear throughout life. Being interested in the work that we are going to work on is really important because it motivates researchers to go with it until the end. Thus, it explains how personal interest would be a goal. She wants to look at something that she has not looked at before. Later, when the research was conducted, she started to set a goal to get the work done and publish it successfully.

In the end, I want to inform the field about something new. I want to look at something that hasn’t been looked at before, or look at it in a different way.

Elise Anguizola Assaf

The research conducted on An Analysis of Literature on Disability and Fear Throughout Life was a qualitative study with a non-systematic collection of articles. Demonstrating their work as a team within the different educational stages ensured the usage of respected journals. When considering advice for research, it can take various forms with crucial decision-making in selecting methods that align with the research questions and goals. Splitting the study into categories helps ensure that the group is on the same page, including working on their parts effectively and together with identifying everyone’s strengths. Dr. Assaf noted that qualitative research offers vivid details and information in each person’s story. Since there’s rich detail within the interview process, she argues that there isn’t a need for numbers, frequencies, or algorithms. This interest will help guide researchers into obtaining accurate information that’ll help others with an understanding of such a topic.

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