Category Archives: PhD

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.

 

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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!

 

 

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Museums & Wellbeing

So apparently there is a Museums and Wellbeing Week.  This is quite exciting for me as my PhD has taken a wellbeing turn (see below) and now I find a week where museums are promoting wellbeing.

Museums & Wellbeing Week Information

Anyway, I have been working hard on my PhD to the point where I have put in to present at two conferences this year. One with a poster and one with a Pecha-Kucha.  To do this I had to communicate my PhD topic in a more academic fashion than my blog post about is earlier this year.  So I got my head around my literature review plan, and wrote this:

I am exploring how museums can better engage with audiences of diverse communities, such as the communities in Leicester.  Drawing on the work of Chatterjee & Noble (2013), I will be looking at how local museums can better support local communities by creating a sense of belonging.   This will include building on the museums inclusivity in relation to identity and race (Crang & Tolia-Kelly, 2010).

Initially I will be looking into the experiences of family groups from the local Leicester area in the local authority museums focusing on their emotional and sensory experiences (Roberts, 2013; Munro, 2014) to better understand the senses of well-being and belonging in the museum.   I hope that this will be a basis on which museums can better represent their local communities and contribute to wellbeing and create an inclusive museum.

This is what I have submitted to see if anyone wants to hear about my research, and it has been successful.  The poster submission deadline passed and today I found out that I shall be presenting my poster at the Museums in the Global Contemporary Conference in Leicester in April.  The other deadline is the beginning of March so I have a little wait for that one.

References:
Chatterjee, H. and Noble, G. (2013) Museums, health and well-being Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate
Crang, M. and Tolia-Kelly, D.P. (2010) Nation, race and affect: senses and sensibilities at National Heritage sites Environment and planning A., 42 (10) 2315
Munro, E. (2014) Doing emotion work in museums: reconceptualising the role of community engagement practitioners Museums and Society March 2014 12(1) 44-60
Roberts, R.C., (2013) Questions of museum essence: Being, Being With, and finding connection in conversation Museums and Social Issues 8:1&2 pp. 89-101

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Filed under Conferences, Museums, PhD, Uncategorized

Class Reunion and Working Practices

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!
https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/38106895/899479777

paperclips and coursework

Numerical paperclips for organising articles, so satisfying!

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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!

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Filed under Conferences, Methodologies, PhD, Visual Methods

Juggling and it’s consequences

Juggling... (c) Dr Seuss

Juggling…
(c) Dr Seuss

This last month has been a little hectic.  I am a full time employee and a part time PhD student.  I am not new to studying while working, in fact my two master’s degrees were completed in this way.  I have found though that the workload (which is my creation, rather than anyone elses) is doubled.  I want to do more reading, more writing and more critical thinking about subjects.  I keep getting sidetracked by subjects that are almost the one I am looking at.  All of that is fine – when I have the time.

I have just spent the last 6 weeks recruiting and training the latest batch of student ambassadors for the university.  This involves talks, applications, assessment centres, then three Wednesdays of training to make sure they are knowledgeable and smiley enough to put in front of visitors.  I have managed to get this done within working hours, so no late nights at work to distract me from studying in the evening.  However, as there isn’t any thinking time during the day.  There is always a task that needs doing that requires some brain power.

Now, many people may be thinking that this is what work is always like, but spend 5 minutes contemplating this.  On a normal day I have a list of things I need to do and I work through them.  There is time in between to have a chat to a colleague, someone drops in and so you stop and chat to them, you finish a task and there is some time to think about the next one, you have time to react to the unexpected and change your plans .  There were days in the last 6 weeks when this didn’t happen, one task finished, straight onto the next one.   It left me exhausted, a couple of nights I went to bed at about 8pm because “my brain had stopped braining”.  (I actually said that one night when I ran out of words!)

This impacted on my PhD work.  I could do the reading, that wasn’t a problem at all, but I had a massive case of writer’s block.  I had the information in my head and in my notes, but could not get it onto a page in any sensible fashion.  Luckily that time is done (until next time).

I have come to terms with this, it is alright to have a month where only reading happens.  As long as there is some progress!

I now have my upgrade paper to begin.

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Thoughts arrive like butterflies…

Butterflies coming out of head

I have been reading some texts that I find a little more challenging than others.  I think this is because of the language and concepts within them, it makes me have to read every word rather than skim through and get the idea of what it is all about.   While reading these kinds of texts I get ideas, almost like moments of clarity among the fuzz of information.   I do worry sometimes that these ideas and concepts will just fade away and I will never remember them again.  They do come back though, when I reread a passage I have marked in that book, the idea returns and I can write it down.

I said last night that I needed a beekeepers hat to stop the thoughts flying away like butterflies!  The response I got was Pearl Jam lyrics-

Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away

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