Just like that, half of my time in Kampala has gone by quicker than I could have ever imagined. I guess they say times flies when you are having fun. A mid way point is always a good indicator for the need to sit down and reflect upon what has happened, but also what is still to come. As I think about my research so far, I can say that it has been enjoyable – but also far removed from my prior anticipations and expectations. In this blog post I will reflect on the general experience of how I have felt carrying out field research for the first time, rather than focusing on specific aspects of my research (to come in a following post).
I suspect the hardest part of carrying out research has been accepting the fact I am a ‘researcher’, as I struggled identifying with that term. This reluctance and difficulty to accept the title of researcher is two-pronged. The first one, perhaps more personal, is that I have been putting researchers on a pedestal for many years now. I have immense respect for their art and craft, as well as their contribution to knowledge creation and production, which I find to be a noble quest. Calling myself a researcher felt almost rude and entitled to their regard. I have been passionate about academia for years now and have enjoyed learning about the what – the contents of knowledge creation – as well as about the how – the ways of achieving knowledge creation through research methods. Still, I felt I was so far from the level of mastery of academics and researchers; in many ways I was still trying to figure it all out. Yet, I suppose everyone has to start from the bottom and I find comfort in reminding myself that all of my favourite academics were once also just students like me. Perhaps research is like jumping into a cold water – you just have to throw yourself in and it will get better after some initial discomfort.
The second reason I struggled calling myself a researcher was due to the nature of my everyday routine. I have always associated the term ‘researcher’ with dynamism, yet I suddenly found myself in an office starring at a screen (as part of my internship) and working a classical 9-to-5. Whilst I am in no way naïve or ignorant to the administrative and tedious aspects of research (e.g. transcribing), I’ve always pictured ‘being out in the field’ to be the predominant aspect of it (at least in the beginning stages). I enjoy a great level of freedom in my internship, as I am carrying out an independent evaluation report of a new pilot project. This offers me the ability to design it the way I see to be best suited, as well as creating my own tasks and schedule. Despite this freedom, I found myself incredibly constricted by an office environment and working hours and as a result suffered a kind of ‘writers block’. I realised that as a student doing research, I had never quite enough appreciated to ability to be able to continually chose everyday when, where and if I want to work. And here I was – undertaking a research project (the internship evaluation project) that was similar in nature to the work I was used to doing at university, and on top of that it was also in my field of interest. In theory, there should have been no struggle, yet I realised I hated the feeling of having a higher authority ( which in this case wasn’t my boss per se, but rather the abstract entity of the office) imposing me when and where I have to work. Rest assured, I am aware of the luxury of such a problem and that I will have to change my ways eventually. Fortunately, being a very introspective person, I was able to spot these feelings quickly and implement small steps to help me counter my occasional lack of inspiration and motivations. As such, this was a nice lesson to learn. For now though, it is my last week working full-time and I am excited to go into part-time work and be able to focus more closely on my personal research and, of course, decide when I where I wish to work on my days off.
Anyway, I do not want to come across as bleak and negative. My reflections serve to help me in positioning myself and reflecting on my evolution, rather than being complaints. Reflection and self-questioning is a crucial aspect of carrying of research, and I believe it should be ongoing. All in all, my experience here has been incredible and I am excited to be working on things that interest me so much. What is perhaps the most exciting aspect of my research is experiencing the practical aspects after engaging with the theoretical side of it for so long. Although carrying out research turned out to be different than expected, I quickly adapted to the new reality of it. After all, research wouldn’t be as exciting and valuable if everything were to go as planned.