I read a great blog post by Patter about having to adjust the planned trajectory of your research to work around the obstacles that come across your path. This connected with me on multiple fronts:
- it was a beautifully written piece and I have much to learn from her about writing
- it connected with a post I was preparing on the obstacles of gaining ethics and travel approval, though these were not the kinds of obstacles to which she referred
- it reminded me that my PhD does not have to be exactly as it was presented in my Confirmation of Candidature (CoC), in fact most are quite different in the end.
I sometimes get concerned that, each time I draft a paper or a presentation, I am slightly adjusting my research topic, but is this really a terrible thing. I have been regularly referring to my CoC to check that I am still addressing the same objectives and using similar terminology. It is important that I try to maintain the primary objective of my research and not stray too broadly that it becomes impossible to harness into a PhD. On the other hand, it is important to refine your work as you learn more. When I prepared my research proposal, I was at the initial stages of understanding my research field. As I read more, and carry out field work, it is inevitable that there will be changes to how I think about my research topic.
Each time I prepare a presentation it is for a slightly different audience. In tailoring my presentation to the audience, I also focus on a slightly different aspect of my research. For a conference presentation in Sweden the focus was on cultural infrastructures. This was a literature that I had not previously been familiar with, but once I started reading it seemed an obvious choice and a space in which I should be engaging. When I presented to the CAUTHE group of tourism and hospitality students, I focussed on those aspects of my research that I thought might be of most interest to them. In chatting casually to one of my supervisory panel members, he mentioned that his research topic adjusts slightly each time he works on a presentation. It was encouraging to know that it is not just an early career researcher issue.
What I am writing also changes depending on what I am finding most interesting in the literature at the time. If I find a new thread that I want to unravel I will start to journey down that path. I like exploring different disciplines and I hope it enhances the quality and impact of my research. Bringing all these threads together into a cohesive piece of work is a challenge I am yet to fully address. I think I have started to come to terms with the fact that my research will make shifts and turns along the way. Over the six-years of my part-time PhD it is probably inevitable. To maintain my focus, I will keep coming back to why I wanted to do this research in the first place. If I am true to that, I think I will be all right.
Image: Chris Jordan’s Gyre 2009, plastic, photo taken at Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, 2019.