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Nicole Farver is a student phone interviewer

Undergraduate English major Nicole Farver from Tomah, Wis., is one of the student phone interviewers employed by the UW Survey Center. Approximately 70 percent of the center’s employees are student workers. 

On most evenings, the campus is quiet, but the hall of the UW Survey Center (UWSC) hums.

It’s the sound of science, generated by interviewers talking with people in Wisconsin and beyond.

These respondents generously give their time and information to science. Scientists give people a voice in research. And the interviewers – many of them students – have work experiences that complement their academic programs and help to pay for school.

The research designed by faculty in the College of Letters & Science demands high-quality, collaborative, flexible data collection. We innovate to meet those demands and master every new data-collection technology – paper questionnaires, computer-assisted or web surveys and, now, strategies that use text messages.

Because people who are easy to contact are different from those who are hard to reach, UWSC uses evidence-based strategies to obtain high rates of participation. We succeed in reaching as many as 80 percent of those selected, even with challenging populations such as youth leaving foster care or renters in Milwaukee.

Research keeps getting more complicated, and UWSC responds – conducting focus groups, depth interviews, classroom observations, cognitive testing, and training interviewers to take reliable measurements, such as height and weight.

Data collection is a practical science. For survey researchers like us, there is real excitement in turning research plans into data, knowledge and understanding.

That understanding is on display in groundbreaking studies like the Milwaukee Area Renter’s Study for Matt Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Eviction” ( the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study and Midlife in the United States.

For studies large and small, using paper, web or interviewers, UWSC gives investigators the luxury of one-stop shopping for data collection.

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