Communication in Dublin

This weekend, I took a day trip to the southwest of Ireland and visited the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, and Cork City. We benefitted from beautiful weather, but unfortunately our trip coincided with the landed of two cruise ships, making these locations far more crowded than usual. It was not my first time at Cashel or Blarney, but happy to return to two beautiful places I have not seen in years. This was my first time in Cork city, and I was surprised to see how similar it was to Dublin. The river area was almost identical to the River Liffey. We did not spend as much time in Cork as I would have liked, but the city’s similarities to the place I have been living for weeks helped me feel like I was not missing much. I wish I was able to spend more time on Ireland’s west coast, but the demands of my work schedule prevent me from having a significant length of time in any place away from Dublin. Although Ireland is a relatively small country compared to the United States, the drive across the country is still quite time consuming. 

The method of communication so far during my internship has been very different than I am accustomed to. The cultural complexity of my research team only compounds this issue, forcing me to adjust not just to an Irish communication style, but varying styles across the team members who are based around the world. Every member of the team beside myself is Italian, and therefore much of their communication, if not conducted in the Italian language, is in a distinctly non-American level of context. In my previous internships, I was given assignments and tasks that were clearly outlined and expressed in a way that left little doubt about what was expected of me. Here, my instructions, if given at all, are vague and leave much up to my own interpretation. This gives me a high level of academic freedom to pursue perspectives and angles as I see fit, but often requires me to redo or edit work I have done to meet the expectations of the team that I was unaware of. 

This issue occurred recently with a project I was working on creating maps that reflected a 1948 Gallup public opinion poll. My task was to organize the results of that poll for a few questions by the state of respondents and produce maps that show how answers differed across America. My instructions contained little more clarify than to “map the results by state” of those polls, so I set out organizing the data and preparing the maps to reflect it. This I could do easily with my experience with Microsoft Excel and GIS software and required little instruction. The problem arose with my representations of the maps themselves, and a lack of understanding on my part of how the team wanted the results to be scaled. After I created the first round of maps, two of my supervisors informed me that they thought the “natural breaks” I chose as intervals created an unnecessarily complex legend that would be difficult to explain in a paper or lecture. Instead, I created maps with “pretty breaks” that chose intervals with simpler decimals that are easier to read. Again, they responded that these intervals showed variation that does not necessarily exist, because the maps had different scales to reflect the same percentages. They finally informed me that they wished to use five intervals, each 0.2 apart, ranging from 0.0-1.0. Although we finally reached a point of consensus and understanding, I would have preferred a higher context method of communication with explicit expectations.

The team’s communication is further complicated by the hybrid nature of our work. Although I go into work at Trinity College every day and most other members of the team do the same at their respective universities, our communication with each other is done almost entirely virtually. Our coordination is limited to weekly zoom meetings where we present our progress and constant group emails. This exacerbates the issues I have with their low context communication. If we were speaking face to face, I could ask questions and discuss the task to clarify what is expected of me. Over email, it is difficult have these back-and-forth discussions effectively, leaving my tasks ambiguous and expectations unclear. I have adapted somewhat to this communication style and the hybrid environment and can sometimes anticipate my supervisors’ desires and goals. In instances like these, our work is very efficient and not slowed by excessive discussion. However, there are times when I engage in a task that does not add much value to the team because of a lack of understanding and clarity. 

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