Surveys as an Introspective Experience

Photo by Christian Neuheuser.

April 5, 2019

Hello again, reader! I've just finished my last lecture of first year classes here at UWaterloo, and therefore have more time to write blog posts! I've got a few more ideas for some other topics to write about as well.

As the end of the term rolls around, I’ve been getting various online surveys landing in my school email, as well as finding surveys to complete around campus. Most of the surveys are on relatively mundane things: my housing, food, work search, academics, or other day-to-day matters. I suppose these are the types of surveys that will be applicable to the most people, and therefore, the surveys that will land in my inbox the most.

I’m not sure how most people treat surveys, but I imagine they’re close to spam email in many people’s minds; a waste of time and a way for corporations to get access to your personal data for marketing purposes. I would like to bring forth an opinion that surveys can actually be a very rare opportunity for introspection on the things that matter to you.

Recently, I took a rather interesting survey. Some background, before I begin: last year, I applied to a few universities’ undergraduate programs, and was accepted into several of them. I ended up choosing University of Waterloo, but to this day, I still receive some email correspondence from the other universities I applied to. One of these emails contained said interesting survey, sent by, let’s call it the University of A (UofA), which I had received an offer from.

The survey concerned the reputations of various universities relative to each other and the UofA. Many questions asked about how I viewed various universities in terms of their reputation for academics, research, community impact, and prestige. Some questions asked my opinion on what universities should be prioritizing, and it was about then that I thought to myself, “Wow! What a question!”. What should a university be responsible for prioritizing? Its students? Its research? Environmental sustainability? It was something I had never actually considered before, and was a question that took a little thinking to answer.

I think that question, as well as other questions in surveys, have forced me to deliberate on where I stand on certain issues and topics. Before I am asked a question, I usually have a really vague idea of my opinion on that question, built off of my other values and preconceptions, but when a survey brings that question right in front of me and forces me to choose an option, or choose to not choose, I find that far more serious thinking is needed to answer. I need to consider what my answer says about me, whether what I would like people to believe is my answer is actually my real answer, and if I feel like I need to work to change my answer.

What does my answer say about me? Sometimes, I find that I’ve answered a question with a contradictory response compared to a previous question. For example, one question from a different survey asked me about what I believed was most valuable in a job, and I answered something along the lines of work-life balance. A little later, the survey asked about how important salary and compensation, and I realized that what I had thought to be a true answer might actually be a false one—salary actually mattered to me too. It’s a little jolt of mental dissonance that feels odd, but probably healthy. Perhaps it’s different parts of my mind speaking up with different thoughts at different times.

The medium of a survey helps too when it comes to forcing me to consider my answers. It’s just questions presented on a static screen, with multiple choice options to choose. There’s no timer or external influence; just me and my own thoughts to mull over. I don’t believe that all surveys are as anonymous as they claim to be, but for me at least, a claim that my response will be anonymous puts me into a good state of mind to ignore what others will think of my answers, and just come up with an answer truthfully. Even if I might not be comfortable answering a question truthfully on a survey, the fact that such was the case lets me learn something about myself as well.

Surveys have been quite the intriguing experience for me lately, and have certainly caused me to rethink a few things. I’m not sure that my previous experiences with surveys have been quite so profound, so it may be that a more contemplative, introspective mindset is needed to get the full survey experience.

Plus, there’s always that chance that I might win one of those gift card survey prizes! I’m not holding my breath, though. Like always, thanks for reading, dear reader, and following me through this odd little journey through surveys!

< Previous All Blogs Next >