Trent’s Community Research Centre matches fourth-year forensic science students with community organizations to complete research projects—year-long assignments devoted to answering research questions provided by the organization. Arthur’s project is unique as it provides the opportunity for the student, as the “researcher in residence,” to choose a topic of interest and related research questions.
The two previous articles in this series covered my initial research on local newspapers and in academic literature. This article is a review of the experience of doing a community-based research project this year, and also summarizes the results of the survey conducted in February.
It goes without saying that it’s been an unusual school year, and while the “academic experience” as we once knew it has changed drastically, it’s also interesting to see how courses at Trent University have been adapted. For forensic science majors, a requirement of the degree is to complete a year-long research thesis, independent project or, community-based research project (FRSC 4890Y). Despite the pandemic and subsequent shift towards remote learning, community-based research was still conducted during the 2020-2021 school year.
If you are considering doing a CBR project next school year or sometime in the future, but are worried about COVID-19 compliance, do not let the pandemic deter you. There is no in-person aspect to the course: weekly classes are remote, and the deliverables of community-based research which include literature review and a survey and/or series of interviews, can all be safely conducted from home.
As in previous years, you will have to make a poster for the Celebration of Research. The TCRC covers the poster printing cost, but with the suspension of in-person events, the traditional poster fair was not possible. Instead it was conducted on the online trade show platform Brazen. The online version of the event isn’t really comparable to its in-person iteration. In normal years people who weren't involved with the research would often wander through the student centre to talk to student researchers and learn about their projects, but this year, this didn’t seem to be the case. If you’re really excited about sharing your work face-to-face with community members, students, and faculty then you might not find this event as engaging as it could be, but it was still a good way to watch presentations and see everyone else’s posters in one place.
Arthur’s project this year was unique because I got to decide my topic and research questions. Available projects can change from year to year, so this specific project might not be on offer for the next school year. However, for all research projects hosted by Arthur, you have to write three articles for publication as your research progresses, giving your project a wider audience that other organizations may not be able to provide.
This also gives you the chance to get used to writing about your research. Although writing for Arthur is not as formal as the final research report will be, learning to write for different audiences is a valuable skill to have under your belt.
To be completely honest, this project was the most challenging thing I’ve done in my four years of university, but it was also immensely rewarding. Doing original research and having control over the direction your project is an incredible experience. Several of my classmates in this course said they felt like they were doing research that really mattered, and would have a positive impact on their community organization, rather than just turning in work for grades.
As a fourth-year student with graduation looming, the future can seem uncertain, but the work you do for your community-based research project can open the door for future opportunities. You might realize that you’re interested in pursuing a career or further education in the same subject or field as your project. Depending on your host organization’s needs and goals, your project might even be continued by future CBR students.
If you are a forensic science student interested in doing a community-based research project in fourth year, don’t hesitate to reach out to the TCRC (or me!) with any questions.
A quick rundown, as promised in the last two articles.
The survey was anonymous, and available online during February 2021, to past and current Peterborough residents aged 18 or older. The survey also had a prize draw which was optional and through a separate survey to keep anonymous responses separate from contact information provided. Since a survey qualifies as human research, the questions had to be approved by Trent’s Research Ethics Board before it could be distributed.
As a refresher, these were the research questions for this project:
1. How is crime in general reported on in local media?
2. How do these media influence people's perceptions about the level of crime and danger in Peterborough?
The purpose of the survey was to address the second question on a local scale.
Twenty-eight people responded to the survey. While more demographic information was collected from respondents (with a “prefer not to say” option for all questions), I’ll only be sharing age and student status for privacy’s sake; the rest is not necessary to understand the results of the survey.
The top three most popular categories in The Peterborough Examiner were: opinion (19), crime (18), and politics (17).
There is no crime category in Arthur, so the top three most popular categories were opinion (22/22) news (21/22) and culture (21/22).
In general, 20 out of 28 respondents cited reading crime reports (in any newspaper) for educational/informative purposes, and this was cited as the most important motivator to read crime reports for 10 respondents, indicating that most respondents read crime reports in order to learn about crimes occurring in their community.
Based on the literature review, there was an indication that crime reports can have an influence on how we view crime in our city. So I was trying to determine if there was a correlation between reading The Peterborough Examiner’s crime reports and having a more negative attitude towards crime and safety in Peterborough (i.e. that Peterborough is an unsafe, high-crime area).
I performed a chi-squared test and got a “significant” p-value, meaning there is a relationship between the two variables, although in the opposite direction than I expected. People who read crime reports in The Examiner were more likely to have an overall positive attitude towards crime in Peterborough, and people who didn’t read crime reports were more likely to have a negative attitude.
This could have something to do with the fact that the survey was primarily promoted through Arthur, with the publication of my first article and sharing of it on their social media. It’s possible that people who were aware of the survey were more likely to favour Arthur over The Peterborough Examiner (but this is just speculation on my part).
Results from this survey are not conclusive due to its small sample size (28). Because of this, one expected value for the chi-squared test was less than five, which is a violation of the assumptions of the test. Also, please note that correlation does not equal causation — the test results mean the variables are related, but does not tell us if one causes the other.
Ultimately, there are complex factors at play in shaping our perceptions of crime that can’t be explained in an eight-month undergraduate research project. I hope future students are interested in local media literacy and choose to explore the relationship between crime reporting, and perceptions of safety.
The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.
A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!
"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."