Below is a blog posted on the Embedded Research Network blog. The site was set up to provide a platform of discussion in which Embedded Researchers and anybody interested in such research arrangement may share ideas, information and news. The network is interested in meeting fellow “Embedded Researchers” – that’s researchers who are nominally employed or located in the organisation they are researching. Check out the blog at http://embeddedresearchers.wordpress.com/
Beginning a PhD is always a daunting experience as you first sit down to read a towering pile of books and enter into a dialogue that’s gone on through the ages in hushed tones in hallowed halls. Beginning a PhD as an embedded researcher is, by my reckoning, scarier still because your study is contingent on the continuation of the initiative you are studying, people staying in post, and generally the world going on as normal, which in these days is a lot to ask.
The difference between my dreams of doing of a PhD and the seat-of-the-pants reality came into collision at the end of my first year.
As for my dream, it is perhaps surprising for an anti-elitist but I have always wanted one of those Oxbridge chats with a professor, in high-backed chairs, beside a fire, port in hand, as we discuss what I might do after graduation. I would suggest becoming a philosopher. She would suggest I might do something practical like making jam. What about a sociologist… or futurologist… or one of those people who writes fake reviews for businesses online? I would reply between her embarrassed headshakes.
The closest I came to such a conversation however was while in a conference centre bar and being handed a beer by one of my supervisors as he told me,
Haven’t you heard? Nick didn’t get the job, so he’s leaving. Henry’s handed in his resignation. So he’s off. It’s all a bit of a mess… Cracking data for you though.
This was June 2009 and I was to start my PhD fieldwork in September on an initiative called the Stockborough Challenge. Nick was the senior manager championing the project. Henry was the director of the Stockborough Challenge. The initiative I was meant to research for my PhD had effectively ended before my fieldwork began. Cracking data, cracked dreams.
At first I was pretty downbeat about the whole thing but due to the benefits of being an embedded researcher, specifically being a nominal employee of the organisation I was researching, and a bit of luck I was able to find the space and goodwill of the professionals in Stockborough to pursue a more interesting line of research, one that brought together research, policy and practice. My findings are a subject for further posts. At this point I simply offer the advice to people embarking on embedded research that things might fall apart at some point but in the cracks you can find what you need to write your thesis.