In Part Three of my new blog series ‘Diary of a Research Fellow’, I discuss the various activities that I have been doing in order to get the men and care research project established. I also discuss my career development activities. While these activities are discussed in the context of my own research and career ambitions, I hope that they provide some helpful insights into project management for those embarking on their own research projects.
I can’t believe it but I am already more than three months into my research fellowship and so much has already happened! In this post I discuss how I have been negotiating access to the Timescapes datasets that I will be analysing in order to refine my research questions and generate access to potential particpants. I then outline some of the career development activities I have been doing since re-entering academic life (see my story about leaving academia on the Vitae website here). I hope this provides a useful insight into my experiences as a funded early career academic as well as ideas for postgraduate students who are embarking on their own research projects.
1) Negotiating access to the Timescapes datasets
My main task in the last three months has been to start the process of conducting Qualitative Secondary Analysis on two Timescapes datasets; Intergenerational Exchange (a study of mid-life grandparents and their experiences of social exclusion in a low income locality) and Following Young Fathers (a study about teenage fathers and their support needs). I have outlined my project proposal elsewhere and this explains my methodological approach, however, in writing about ‘Timescapes’ and ‘Qualitative Secondary Analysis’ I am keenly aware that these require some explanation!
First of all, for those that don’t know, Timescapes was a research programme funded by the ESRC between 2007 and 2012 and the brainchild of Professor Bren Neale. As it’s website states; “The broad aim was to scale up and promote Qualitative Longitudinal (QL) research, create an archive of data for preservation and sharing, and to demonstrate and encourage re-use of the resource”. Initially it linked seven independently conceived qualitative research projects (that explored motherhood, fathering, grandparenting, sibling relationships, childhood and so on) that were conducted across several British universities. Each of the projects explored varying dimensions relating to how personal and family relationships develop and change over time and each used a qualitative longitudinal methodology, meaning that in-depth interviews were conducted with people on numerous occasions throughout their lives. While all of the projects were independently conceived they are linked by overlapping interests in time, the life course, transitions, family and intergenerational relationships (Irwin et al 2010).
What is especially innovative about Timescapes is that all of the data from each project has been archived and is being made available as a resource to be reused by other researchers. Secondary researchers can register for various levels of access to the archived data and can analyse it for their own purposes. Secondary analysis of data is commonly conducted with large numerical or quantitative datasets, but qualitative secondary data analysis is only just being recognised for its methodological potential within mainstream British sociology. My plan is to analyse across the two datasets mentioned earlier, in order to refine the research questions for my own project and also to generate access to potential participants for my empirical project.
There are of course inherent ethical and methodological challenges relating to the conduct of analysis of data that belongs to someone else and I expect to publish material relating to this process as the fellowship proceeds (Sarah Irwin and Mandy Winterton have already published some detailed and critical guides and reflections about conducting QSA that are definitely worth reading – see the Timescapes Knowledge Bank). In the last few months however I have been working on a strategy to ensure that a) the two projects are the correct ‘fit’ for my own research interests and by ‘fit’ I mean that they provide relevant insights into men’s experiences of care in low income localities, so that I can begin to redefine my original research questions and b) that ensures that I remain mindful about working in an ethical way that recognises the rights of the original researchers of both projects.
2) Knowledge Exchange activities
A key element of having conversations with the primary researchers of the Timescapes projects discussed above has also been about looking forward and planning my own empirical project. At a pragmatic level, the conduct of Qualitative Secondary Analysis is about generating refined research questions but it is also about anticipating and generating access to the research site. My conversations with Kahryn, Nick and the Following Young Fathers team have therefore been influential in terms of finding out about the local voluntary and third sector infrastructure and about establishing contacts with relevant professionals who can provide valuable insights into this. In the last few months I have therefore been busily contacting potential gate-keepers and have been meeting with them. These meetings have been invaluable in learning about the care sector in Leeds and in finding out about service gaps in the area. I have met with service providers with quite different remits and focus but overall, service provision for men continues to be lacking and I think there is potential for my research to impact the local area. In refining my research questions in the context of the outcomes of the qualitative secondary analysis, I also expect to refine my research questions so that the evidence I generate might support and develop the service provision of local third sector and voluntary organisations.
3) Career Development opportunities
As well as doing a number of project related activities I have also been re-establishing myself within the academic community and have begun to think about career development again. Following my brief stint, working outside of academia (see my career story on the Vitae website here), I consider this to be very important.
In November 2014, I attended the Homespace seminar at the Geffrye Museum (summarised here) in order to learn more about conceptualisations of care and how care is spatialised. This gave me the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues from the Open University and to think about how care is currently being theorised. Attending this seminar convinced me that there is a real need to focus on men’s experiences of care. I also gave my first presentation since starting the fellowship, at a seminar in my department about experiences of fieldwork (see here for more details). At the end of this month I am presenting at a Family Geographies conference at Brunel University to re-establish connections there and to present about my PhD research.
I have also been getting back into publishing and now have the opportunity again to work on journal articles that I have already submitted but that require additional work. One paper that I submitted to Sociology with colleague Dr Robin Mann has now been officially accepted and will be published very soon. Two more articles have now been subject to peer review and require minor corrections. I hope to work on these and get these accepted very soon.
Watch this space for further updates on the progress of my fellowship.
Irwin, S., Bornat, J. and Winterton, M. (2010) Timescapes secondary analysis: comparison, context and working across data sets, Qualitative Research, 12 (1): 66-80.