Getting it out there

I’m in the midst of a modest attempt and first few tentative steps at getting my work out there. Over the past couple of months, the details of several symposia aimed particularly at early career researchers have dropped into my Inbox. I submitted abstracts for three and was fortunate enough to have them accepted. In each case, the theme spoke to a specific aspect of my work, thereby providing an opportunity to focus on several, small aspects of my thesis.

At the beginning of June I attended “Adaptive Ethnographies for a 21st Century Sociology” arranged by the British Sociological Association at Royal Holloway, University of London. I spoke about how I’d employed visualisation for data recording and analysis as a strand within my ethnographic approach, rather than how the vis is commonly purely a presentation device. I tried to argue that analysis was an element which receives less attention than the conducting and writing of ethnographies, and that producing visualisations can be one way of supporting the analytical and interpretive processes..

“Royal Holloway facade” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Given the location of Royal Holloway, I went down the day before and stayed overnight. The campus is amazing, the guest accommodation was spot on, the weather was lovely and during the symposium itself, fellow participants were so friendly and interesting. Fascinating though their studies were, I guess it was the teacher in me which attended more closely to the way each person discussed their research; how they ordered their content, what they chose to include and omit, and how they presented it. Alex Rhys-Taylor’s keynote on ‘Sensory Ethnography’ offered insights I’d never normally have considered:

“Sensory ethnography” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

And the closing keynote from Paul Atkinson (he of ‘Hammersley & Atkinson’ fame), given his long-standing and significant contributions to the field of ethnography, was not to be missed.

A couple of days ago I was at a second symposium, this time at Staffordshire University. Titled ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Educational Research’ and organised by BERA, this provided an opportunity for me to revisit my ethical stance and explore some of the ethical issues which arose during my study. On another beautifully sunny day, I arrived on campus with plenty of time to spare, so gravitated to one of the eateries for coffee and croissant. It’s hard to convey the sense of delight and privilege I feel at having the opportunity to participate in days such as these; to visit places of learning which seem so welcoming and inviting, and have the space and time to enjoy the experience … notwithstanding the slight apprehension at presenting your research to an audience of fellow academics. I needn’t have worried. The welcome and warmth extended to that provided by the event hosts, and fellow participants, who were from an eclectic mix of educational arenas.

I’ve discussed the ethical issues within my study at length throughout this blog. With online research, these are often far from simple matters. What I hadn’t been quite so prepared for at the symposium, was just how complex the issues faced by my peers might be. When research involves young people, there will always be serious ethical issues to address; what came through from several presentations though was that researching colleagues and the institutions in which we work can be particularly challenging, especially where the themes to be explored are rather sensitive. In situations like these, the ethics of minimising harm to study participants, has to be extended to encompass minimising risk to the researcher. Some of the studies presented were clearly quite demanding in this regard.

A couple of things struck me about the day. Firstly, it was refreshing that not one of the ten presenters read from a script. I’ve discussed elsewhere how surprised I was at how often experienced and noteworthy academics read their presentations from scripts. Perhaps it was that the majority of fellow presenters were former teachers and therefore used to speaking in front of groups of people? Or maybe it was that as fellow ECRs, the level of criticality is likely to be less than amongst more established academics; egos and reputations were less on display. The second observation I’d make is that there were only two men (presenting as such) within a group of around fifteen people. This gave the day a very different feel I think, but I couldn’t help wondering why the gender balance of attendees might be so skewed. Maybe it partially reflected the gender imbalance in the teaching profession as a whole, and yet it’s surely not that pronounced? Surely it couldn’t be that ethical issues in research are not generally seen by men to be such a high priority … could it?

Two down and one to go. In around a week I’m off to the University of Derby for a Creative Research Methods symposium. I’m really looking forward to hearing from folks who might be pushing the boundaries somewhat, although wonder whether the ten plus five minutes we’ve been allocated might for too brief a tasting. We shall see.

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