September 5, 2008

A new telephone-based survey research center is helping researchers in the University of Kentucky School of Human Environmental Sciences gather data in a more efficient, cost-effective manner.

The Family Science Survey Research Center in the UK Department of Family Studies is the first of its kind in the state to primarily focus on family science, which includes among others, social and economic issues of aging; relationship education focusing on parenting, marriage and divorce; economic self-sufficiency of women and families; and policy issues affecting low-income families. Trained interviewers gather data from randomly selected individuals using social science-based research methods. Depending on the research, interviewers can survey individuals throughout the state and nation on a wide range of topics. Once they collect information, university researchers analyze the data and share the results through various state and national publications.

"It's efficient for researchers to gather quality data through phone interviews because the random digit dialing technique enhances the ability to generalize the results to the population," said Claudia Heath, director of the center and family studies professor in the UK College of Agriculture.

Heath said because the center is geared toward a broad definition of family science research, it is something the entire school can utilize in its academic endeavors.

"The survey center provides undergraduate, masters and doctoral students the opportunity to get hands-on experience in conducting surveys," she said. "Additionally, graduate students can also collect data for their theses and dissertations, and faculty can conduct funded projects that gather data in manner that is more cost effective than other research methods."

The idea for the center came from Jason Hans, an assistant professor in the UK Department of Family Studies, who was interested in doing a phone survey for some of his research but had a limited budget. He saw the center as an opportunity for undergraduate students to get research experience.

"They learn about the research process and ethics of research just by being engaged in it," he said.

The center has grown from four calling stations to 10 and hopes to expand to 14 stations one day. Additional technologies have been purchased through the department's salary savings and incentive funds through UK's Office of the Vice President for Research.

Heath and Cheryl Mimbs, assistant professor in family studies, have just completed gathering data for a funded research project that was conducted through the center. The project looks at the various aspects of Kentucky women's lives that factor into their decisions of whether to pursue further education.

"This project will help professionals in family science to better understand the factors involved for women as they make decisions regarding marriage, children, employment and education," Heath said. "It will also provide help to those outside of the field, who are interested in the educational attainment of Kentuckians and want to understand the factors influencing Kentucky women as they determine their educational attainment."

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