by Gina Sestak
One of the many short-term jobs I held as an undergraduate involved end-of-term surveys. I think we were paid $15 per class to show up on the final day and pass around a list of questions through which students could rate the professor. I would collect the surveys when the class ended and turn them in.
I remember one bleak December day, in my third or fourth year. I'd been up most of the night working on a research paper. I rolled out of bed after two or three hours exhausted slumber in my hovel -- ahem, I mean, my lovely off-campus sleeping room, took a quick shower to wash away some of the grogginess, dressed in the same torn jeans and T-shirt I'd dropped on the floor the night before, grabbed my old coat, and ran the quarter mile or so to the Cathedral of Learning. [For anyone unfamiliar with the University of Pittsburgh, this is a tall beautiful Gothic building in which classes were held.] The 8 a.m. class was full of first-year students. They were all neatly dressed, clothes clean and pressed, hair combed, and faces washed. Alert. I passed out the surveys and leaned against the wall, too tired to stand. While the students filled them out, I amused myself by cracking the little sleeves of ice that had formed around my damp hair in the sub-zero temperatures outside, and I realized then that I would never be "normal" in the sense that these kids were normal. That's when I knew I had to skew the norm to make it more like me.
"How can you do that?" you may ask.
"By taking surveys," I reply.
And ever since, I've been filling out a lot of questionaires. I'm flattered that marketers want to know what kind of toothpaste I prefer, or whether I'd like to see dead loved ones' faces etched into their tombstones. I've participated in focus groups and even, when I was still married, spent three months filling out daily forms on sexual behavior. My ex- and I were one of only TEN heterosexual couples in the study. [Isn't that a scary thought?]
That's not to say I enjoy taking any survey. I hate the ones that try to make you chose a particular answer, like:
I firmly believe that (choose one):
a. George W. Bush is the greatest president ever, OR
b. We are all pawns of Satan, destined for everlasting torment in Hell.
I also detest wishy-washy choices that include the word "expectations" because that word is so subjective. Whenever I'm asked whether a particular event met my expectations, I'm tempted to write, "No. I expected it to be the stupidest, most boring half-hour of my life, but it was even worse. It EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS!"
Do you fill out surveys? If so, do you think:
a. questionaires are really boring OR
b. this is the way that we can really change the world!!!
Let me know.