Monday, July 29, 2013

Things Nobody Told Me Before Going into the Field...

I'm 2 full weeks into data collection.  I've had some really exciting research highs, and several "oh my God what did I do; take me home; I quit" moments.  Through it all I've begun to understand even more why research, the ethnographic experience, and sociology in general are addictive.

  • Nobody told me how physically exhausted I would be after even a few short hours "in the field."  (Actually that's a lie, one of my committee members, Laura Carpenter, did warn me of this; I just had no idea of the extent).  After my first 2 days I thought something was wrong with me.  (Don't worry, I checked, WebMD says it's cancer.)  My personal diagnosis is that research is the most exhausting total body workout imaginable.  The first week my schedule comprised of observations, meetings, forced sessions of writing fieldnotes, and countless naps.  It was just over a week ago, and I honestly cannot tell you what I did without looking back at my calendar (see point below on organization).  I suppose I fell back on the methods training I had and went to ethnographic autopilot.  I was not expecting this at all!  At the start of week 3 I am feeling a little more at ease, taking fewer naps, and am producing more streamlined thoughts.  Who knew that it would take 2 weeks to get over ethnographic jet-lag and start to feel normal again?
  • I've read much about preparing yourself to enter or exit "the field;" but nobody told me that "the field" doesn't end or begin at the University gates.  I was trained to think relationally about social phenomena, so I don't know why it surprised me that I am learning about the Gallaudet experience while I'm in a grocery store full of hearing adults, or on the metro going to the Smithsonian museums, or listening to the radio.  I am fully engaged with and in the field even when I'm no where near my participants.  I hope this experience doesn't fade. I hope I am able to continue to learn more about the Deaf experience through the writing of this research, and even into my next project.  I hope the limits to  "the field" are boundless. 
  • Nobody told me that I would simultaneously feel overrun with ideas and speechless.  In every interaction I find myself in, or observe, in every question I ask, in every response I "listen" to, my mind is spinning with ideas, theories, more questions, etc.  But at the same time I feel speechless and unable to force these thoughts together into a coherent statement.  I am grateful that my fieldnotes are my own.  That my jottings, voice recorded memos, and post-it note reminders are private.  I am hopeful that soon, or at least by the end of these 12 months, that I will be able to form and also write a coherent statement about this ethnographic experience. 
  • Nobody told me how critical and time consuming scheduling, logistics, and organization would be.  I had no idea I would spend several hours each day organizing, planning, scheduling, and routinizing my life.  Thank god for those junior high school lessons on organizing your trapper keeper, keeping a calendar, and making check lists!
  • Also, nobody told me that Talenti makes the BEST chocolate ice cream/gelato.  Fellow researchers, no further hypothesis testing needs to be done on that one, my case study of 1 jar is conclusive evidence. 

So despite the ups, the downs, the naps, and the sugar rushes at this juncture in the research experience I can say that I am without a doubt thrilled to be here in DC doing the project that was never intended to be.  And, to be quite honest, I'm glad nobody told me because discovery is part of the addiction.

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