Notes from the field – Guest Blog

This guest blog post is brought to you  by Alli Coyle, PhD Student, African Studies & Events Administrator at IAD

Conducting research is arguably the most exciting part of any PhD, but it can also be the most stressful, no matter what the environment. I’m approaching the third year of my PhD in African Studies and having being in the field already, I am returning this summer for a further five months. My research “field” is Malawi and so finding a way to keep accurate and safe field-notes was a bit of a challenge.

Keeping up-to-date and thorough notes on research is really important, more so when your research relies so heavily on the quality of your notes. There is a somewhat romantic idea of writing up notes whilst in the field of – doing so in the evening, after a day of researching, of keeping them organised and knowing exactly where everything is. I say the idea is romantic, because in theory it is possible but in practice it never works for me.

I used to dread having to spend the evening writing up my field-notes, it wasn’t helped by the fact the sun had disappeared by 5.30pm, mosquitos were flying around and there were consistent comings and goings in the house. I kept trying though, writing up (or should I say typing-up) my notes in the evening and scribing the interviews from that day.  It wasn’t much fun and the thought of doing it every night for three months soon made start to think about other options.

What about Blogging? Well I have an “I’m in Africa” blog that I keep to update friends, family and colleagues whilst I am away. It’s a good way of letting them know what I’m up to, where I am and also of explaining the funny stories from that day or week. I decided to start a “Fieldwork” Blog which I’ve kept private (but both my supervisors can access).

So what are the benefits of blogging field-notes?

–           It can be accessed from any computer that has an internet connection

–           Supervisors can follow progress and leave comments

–           It’s easy to add photos, video, insert links

–           It’s already in dated order (so no trying to work out where I was on certain days)

–           It can be easily edited at a later date

These are just some of the benefits, I particularly like that I can access it from anywhere in the world and that my supervisors are able to check up on my progress (if they want to).  I also find it makes writing up sections much easier as I can look at my field-notes and my public blog and how they relate – I’ve even realised that I tend to write better in my field-notes when I’ve updated my public blog.

Everyone is different and blogging field-notes may not be appropriate for everyone, but if you already have a blog, then why not start one for field-notes.  It helped me keep my sanity and also solved my problem of linking up the photos with my notes.

Setting up an academic conference

Today I’m at the School of GeoScience Postgraduate Research Conference and it occured to me that some of you might be either attending or organising conferences over the summer.

If you’re organising a conference there are some things which it will help you to keep in mind:

  • Advertise the event well in advance to ensure that people can attend.
  • Be aware of your budget from the start, and throughout the planning stages, to avoid a huge over spend.
  • If you are asking people to submit papers or posters in advance give them plenty of notice of the deadline and don’t be afraid to chase people for their submissions. Make this process as easy as possible for people to complete, use an electronic form for example.
  • If you are printing anything in advance ask your printing service what their lead times are and give yourself enough time to collate and proof read everything before sending it to the printers.
  • Try to choose a venue which is easy to get to and which has parking available.
  • If your venue doesn’t supply one, make up an information pack which includes maps and transport information.
  • If you are catering the event it makes sense to ask your delegates to register in advance so that you can confirm the numbers with your venue and caterers to avoid wastage. You can also use this to create name badges.
  • If the conference is being held locally, there will always be some people who will not register but will turn up on the day and expect you to have a name badge for them…so take spares.
  • If you are supplying your own A/V you should always take a spare of everything as something always breaks at the least convenient moment.
  • Make a good connection with the staff at the venue where you are running the event. They can be really helpful in the event of a problem.
  • Arrange with your venue for you to have a spare room which you can use as an office type space. This means that you have somewhere to escape to, discuss any problems which you may be having, keep your bags and store spare stationery etc.
  • Find out from the venue if there are any fire drill expected and what facilities are availalble. Someone will always ask if there is wifi.
  • If people have helped you to run the event, remember to thank them afterwards.
  • Ask for feedback so that you can learn and improve for next time.
  • Finally, enjoy it!