METM21 Online Chronicles: Alina Cincan

Running a comprehensive survey ­– process, challenges, criticism and lessons learnt

When Alina Cincan – a Scottish-based translator, interpreter, project manager, business owner and teacher ­– decided she’d carry out her own survey of the freelance translation profession, she thought she might be letting herself in for a bit of extra work. But she had no idea it was going to cost her thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours of her time.

This is the story Alina told in her presentation, which kicked off Track 1 on Friday afternoon of the conference. Alina’s survey generated some interesting findings, not least the statistic that women translators charge an average of 12% more than men. Her results can be found here. But her presentation concentrated less on the results and more on the nuts and bolts of carrying out such a survey and her motivation for pursuing the project.

Alina, who is from Romania, is personally fascinated by translation and, as well as wanting to produce something interesting for fellow translators to read, she intends to use the data she has collected as part of a possible future PhD thesis. But she picked a challenging time to do her research – just as she was getting started, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

Even so, between partially and fully completed surveys, around 1,500 people took part, far beyond her wildest expectations. This, together with other problems, meant it took her nine months longer than she had anticipated to produce her results.

One of the most engaging aspects of Alina’s presentation was her honesty and openness about the mistakes she made. She piloted the survey before running it for real and made changes to iron out problems with certain questions, but there were still several that didn’t work as she’d anticipated. In this kind of undertaking, as in many others, the only real way to learn is by trial and error.

Her talk also demonstrated how unforgiving people can be. She asked for feedback after her survey and, as well as considerable praise, attracted a storm of criticism, some of which struck me as unduly harsh, bearing in mind that participation in the survey was entirely voluntary and that without information some people might consider personal it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.

Despite all the problems, in the question-and-answer session at the end of her talk Alina made it clear that she would have gone ahead with the survey even had she known about all the difficulties and costs. And she may even carry it out again, armed with the extensive knowledge she has gained from the mistakes she so freely admitted. If you get it wrong, as they say, you’ll get it right next time.

This METM21 Online presentation was chronicled by Simon Berrill.

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