Over the last year I have been working on my methods chapter and reading about amazing work that other people have done with different communities. I will leave the actual details to my chapter, but there is a underlying problem with a lot of the fieldwork accounts that are out there…they lie about what it is really like! They are perfectly documented and amazingly executed methods where participants are on time (or even turn up at all) and engage fully with the project from start to finish with no hitches. There is no chasing of appointments or survey responses. There is no mess, no one has better things to do than come along to an information session or a museum visit.
My project has been some crazy Venn diagram of when people are available, when I am available (and not at work), when the museum is open, when they don’t forget, when the children are alert and engaged, when everyone is not hungry, when it is not organised too far in the future, when it is organise with enough notice, if it isn’t raining…in fact, I am surprised that I have managed to get any families to visit the museum with me sometimes! Don’t get me wrong, I love the people and the families I work with, but they have real lives that don’t put my project at the top of their priorities list (and it shouldn’t be anyway). So when I spend an hour waiting outside the museum for a group, I don’t actually mind.
In the long run there is a reason for an absence and it’s not because they didn’t want to come.
Then there is the methods. It’s great asking people to take photos with you. In the past I have used disposable cameras and taken them away to be developed. This has it’s own problems of children not knowing how they work (this was hilarious the first time – “where can I see the photo when I am taking it?” and “How can I delete ones I don’t like?”), fingers over the view finders and over winding by the more zealous participants. It all leads to no data. I was not (and am still not) in a position to buy lovely digital cameras to give out to families. So I asked my families to use their phones and share pictures with me. Perfect! They took loads going around the museum of each other, of things they liked or made them laugh…but the actual act of sharing those gets more complicated. You get a “yeah, sure” and one photo or two. This then makes the next step of discussing those photos more complicated because there are no photos, and the getting together to talk about these, well see Venn diagram problem.
The above issues all happen after you have found a group to work with. They are out there, but sometimes the gatekeepers can be tricky. However, if you go and have a chat and a cuppa about your project and how you can help them it all turns out lovely. People genuinely want to help!
I am halfway through my fieldwork and originally I had planned it to be one academic year with one group of people. At the end of the summer term the group fell apart for a number of reasons, and I lost regular contact quite quickly. I wondered what I was going to do as I wasn’t finished and it seemed a bit of an imposition to ask for further meetings – they had other things on their minds. I potentially have a new group now. So a contrast maybe, but also a new start with some of the lessons learnt from last year. I also have the assurance that this crazy process is “normal”. So if it is normal, please please write about it! Let’s not let other researchers and students feel like they are failing because the course of research does not run smooth.
Having looked at the last date I posted and my fieldwork journal, I thought I would approach the roller-coaster of a time I have been having. Blogging obviously did not seem to be a priority for the last two years. Twitter has been a good venting mechanism and way to show what has been going on and what other people are doing but it has its ups and downs as well.
One thing I have realised is that other PhD students use Twitter to make out that it is all work, all the time and there is no respite or thinking time. You are in a lab or writing/reading and there is nothing in between. It is the hardest slog you will ever encounter. I am wondering how many people this may have put off embarking on an really curious journey into research. But then, that’s social media for you. Twitter is for complaining how hard your life is, Facebook is for making it look perfect.
Back to my last two years…I was getting on nicely where I was when my supervisor moved to another university! I had a couple of options. I could stay where I was with a new supervisor (but they were struggling to find one), I could follow my old supervisor to the new university (not best practice) or I could see if I could return to Leicester (where I work and completed my previous degrees). Following some chats, where I through I would be selling myself and it ended up being them selling the department – I am back at Leicester with two new supervisors. They are not so new to me now as it has been a whole year since I returned. The upsides to being back on home turf are no commute to meetings, a small amount of teaching opportunities (with no commute)and being able to be part of the PhD community here. So after a small amount of worry it all worked out.
So here I am, about the begin my fifth year of my PhD. I feel like the end is in sight. I am still working full time, “studying” part time. I am not over encumbered with workload, I seem to be able to have days where I don’t do any PhD related at all which allows me thinking time. It is never far from my mind though. I am writing my methodology and literature review. Fieldwork is happening, but will also be the subject of next week’s blog post. I have even put a reminder into my diary to make me do it and not wait another two years!
I had a class reunion today, in the coffee shop. My classmate* from my MRes and I met up to chat PhD things. She began her part-time PhD in October last year and is essentially in the same situation as myself, working full time, studying part time and commuting to see our supervisors every month or so. She messaged me because I said it was important to speak to others in the same situation and as we both commute to our respective universities meeting up in the middle ground (work) is the simplest option.
I hope she won’t mind me mentioning this, but she said she had hit her first hurdle with being able to concentrate on work. She has a space set up at home to study but finds herself getting distracted. I was given some advice by my supervisor about distractions quite early on. She told me to allow some distractions to distract me. If I am working from home, water the plants if I keep staring at them, put that washing in the machine. Otherwise the small distractions become bigger distractions. This helped me a lot. I could shrug off the guilt of moving away from the desk for five minutes and I felt that I was more productive while I was “in the zone”.
We also spoke about where we work. I try and work away from the computer as much as I can when I am at home. I am mostly desk based at work so coming home and thinking that I might be stuck at a desk for an hour or so in the evening would put anyone off! I do a lot of my reading and note making sat on the sofa, sat in bed or soaking in the bath**! I find it hard to work when there are voices on the TV but if the other half is playing computer games it is not a problem (and definitely not a problem for him as he is encouraged to play games!).
Hopefully some of my habits are useful to help her get sorted out. I think we all have to find our comfortable space to work in.
Yesterday I ended up in an interesting conversation with a maths academic about museum visiting. I mentioned my PhD and we ended up discussing class inequalities in museum visiting. It made me feel quite confident in what I am doing and in what I know. Hooray for baby steps!
*There were only two of us on the MRes when we took it. We both work(ed) full time and are now both on part-time PhD courses. The stats for progression following our degree must look amazing for our cohort!
** The bath has its downsides, dropping papers in the water and difficultly in jotting down ideas when they come up!
In a twist of fate, the PhDSupportNetwork posted this which is strangely relevant to this post!
Numerical paperclips for organising articles, so satisfying!