Several BYU undergraduates spent last summer in Thailand as research assistants studying Thai nationalism with Professor Joel Selway. Carly Madsen, a recent graduate of the Political Science Department, helped facilitate the student and faculty research conducted over the summer.
Under the direction of Selway and Madsen, students created, translated and oversaw administration of a Qualtrics survey to over 1000 people in the Chiang Mai area about nationalism and identity.
Due to the nature of the study, research assistants from BYU were unable to conduct the survey themselves. Students from the English Department of North Chiang Mai University partnered with BYU undergraduates to help translate and administer the survey. The translation process was the most difficult portion of the study, according to Madsen.
“When we got to Thailand a lot of our work was re-translating multiple times with different people. Someone would read it and say oh this is fine and then another person would read it tell us it makes no sense or it was too casual or not casual enough,” she said. “Yeah, the language thing was kind of hard.”
While translating the words used in the survey may have been difficult, speaking Thai every day was not new. Madsen served an LDS mission in Bangkok, Thailand from February 2013 to August 2014, and it was her language proficiency that qualified her for the facilitator position. “Basically, I was a communicator and an organizer,” she said of her role.
A significant part of the group’s preparation effort was developing question for each of the research assistants. Before they left for Thailand, Madsen spent time with each student to help them develop a compelling research question of their own.
“I was making sure everyone had a good research question that they felt excited about and then making sure that they were writing proposals that were impressive enough to receive grant money,” she said. The effort paid off. Each student that went to conduct research received funding from the department or school. She cites the opportunity to conduct personal research as a rewarding part of her experience.
“It was really cool for me to get answers to my own questions about women in Thai politics,” she said. Madsen interviewed many professional women, one of whom was an influential municipal leader. Each of these women had examples of the strides women had made in the public sector and hope for the future, which Madsen appreciated. “Thai politics are something that matter a lot to me, as does gender in politics. Having the chance to merge those together and see how women are doing in Thai politics was really cool.”
Madsen is still analyzing the data from her survey with Professor Selway, but observed that many surveyed citizens feel a stronger tie to their region than the country. She anticipates presenting papers of their findings at conferences within the year. Her next step is graduate school, after publishing a paper on the research she conducted personally in Thailand.
Ultimately, “the summer was a success,” she said.
Dr. Joel Selway joined the BYU Political Science faculty in 2009 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He has researched the democratic systems of ethnically diverse societies, particularly in Asian countries. Ralph Brown was the previous faculty advisor of the Thailand international development internship program at BYU.