Category Archives: Methodologies

PhD Fieldwork – the Realities

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 wiperfect meetingth 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.

Symmetrical_5-set_Venn_diagram.svgIn 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.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Distractions, Hints & Tips, Methodologies, Museums, PhD, Supervision, Uncategorized, Visual Methods

Progress

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.

rollercoaster

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.

phd progress

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!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Distractions, Hints & Tips, Methodologies, PhD, reading, Supervision

Emotions and sonnets to gravel #focussheffield

I have just been to an intriguing conference held at the University of Sheffield on Advanced Visual Research Methods.  I am not going to review the whole two day conference, but just pick on a small part of it.  On the second day we spent a lot of time on one session, we had the choice of which session it was and I chose one called Making Emotions: materiality in visual research.

We began by drawing designs and patterns on paper in charcoal.  We had been discussing emotions and I thought I would try and capture my social awkwardness and insecurity when I am at conferences and talking about my academic work.  This is what I drew-

Original design

Original design

We talked briefly about the designs as a group (it was a nice small group, only about seven of us) and voted on the 21 designs to pick two to make into sculptures.  Mine was one of those picked.  We split into groups to make the gravel sculptures and I was told that we shouldn’t work on our own designs.  I was handing over my design to people I didn’t know and people who didn’t know what it was all about.  What would they do to it?

During the next part I worked on someone else’s sculpture design. I wondered what the story behind it was as I made it, my hands were shaking at times to make sure I was pouring the coal dust accurately.  The gravel sculptures were made from limestone chippings and coal dust.   I kept glancing over to the other, “my”, sculpture to see what they were doing, but I was really aware that I couldn’t say anything. Between the artist and the other delegates they had taken out the lines and only left circles.  However, there was a discussion going on about the lines. To my relief they had put some lines in.

Gravel sculpture

Gravel sculpture

We discussed the production process of the gravel sculptures together, and the acts of co-producing work.  It occurred to me that just listening to someone describe emotion is not enough.  The extent of their feelings is incredibly difficult to capture and so easily misinterpreted or overlooked.  Using materials and creative process such as gravel sculptures provides an additional conduit for communication.  Then, it was taken a step further – we were asked to write sonnets to our sculptures.

Here is mine, to the sculpture above (apologies to poets as it is not quite right):

Your concept makes so much sense to me now
Circles and lines so clear and curved
I understand the why, where, when and how
The stark contrasts of black and white reserved

I worried you were in the others hands
Would they understand what you were about
Could they do you justice made out of sands
Or would they miss parts of you out

But the end result made me see as new
How my research and participants will
Allow me to get a different view
And make me aware that others will fill

My research with some unique perspectives
There is no need to follow directives

It is cheesy – I am aware of this – but in the process of this I realised that I had to think quite hard about the right words to describe things and maybe think around them a little to make them fit in.  I realise I might also be quite late to this party, but it has shown me that methods can be varied.  Being able to actually take part in the methods and not just be spoken at for an hour at a time was also invaluable.  I look forward to the next one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Conferences, Methodologies, PhD, Visual Methods