Academic life, ethics and the importance of record keeping

I’ve earlier emphasised the importance of keeping all the records of your activity logs and correspondence (both e-mail and paper-based). This is crucial not only for the need of tracing the roots of your evolving thoughts, but also for the protection of your own reputation. Sometimes, you will need to recount particular events, identify what action was following which previous action on what dates, and what were the supporting documents to substantiate your own account of facts.

Very recently, with regard to a published paper of mine, somebody was telling me that I did not acknowledge his workshop in the paper’s acknowledgement, even though my paper’s empirical findings were earlier presented at his workshop and benefited from the workshop discussions. This was the first time that I had received such a remark.

The thing is, his account was completely groundless, as I did not present my paper’s empirical findings at his workshop, but elsewhere in a separate conference session on a different continent three months later (and the conference was of course acknowledged in my paper). He was present in both events (the latter event as an attendant), so it’s very possible that he got things mixed up. What I presented at his workshop was a completely different paper, and this was never published – he was informing people at the time about a possible publication project based on workshop papers, so I set this paper aside but no news of the publication proposal since then…

In order to point out his errors, I had to go through all my previous versions of the paper (across more than four-year period), dig out PPT files presented at both events, check the last-save dates, check e-mail correspondences and diary entries and so on. Thankfully, all the records could be found, but all these were really a complete waste of my time because of the person who just did not check the simple fact and could not remember what I actually presented at his own event.

Researchers talk about the importance of vigilantly keeping field diaries, minutes of meetings with interviewees and informants or personal accounts of events, etc. Academics teach their students about the importance of these A to Z of research methods. These are all going to be very important when triangulating your findings and contribute to producing evidence-based research outputs, as these records not only become the field data themselves but also help you establish an accurate account of what happened in the often chaotic field. It is important to apply these basic rules to one’s day-to-day administrative and/or academic life as well outside field research sites. One should avoid as much as possible not to resort to ill-founded or vague memories when making important decisions or remarks. Evidence-based thinking helps.

Well, more on these issues later when the summer term quietens…

CFP: Field Research Method Lab – Addressing Field Research Constraints in China

(Please kindly note that a new LSE blog is launched based on the outcomes of the workshop: Field Research Method Lab at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/fieldresearch)

Field Research Method Lab:
Addressing Field Research Constraints in China 

Hosted by the Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science

Funded by the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre 

Dates: 6-7 June 2013

Venues: 6 June in Graham Wallace Room, Old Building and 7 June in Room OLD.3.21 (For maps and directions, please visit http://www2.lse.ac.uk/mapsAndDirections/Home.aspx)

It is with pleasure to announce CFP for a workshop on ‘Addressing Field Research Constraints in China’, to be held at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The field research method workshop aims at bringing together both established and early career researchers working on China and sharing their hands-on experiences of addressing various constraints that they have encountered in the course of their fieldwork. It will be an opportunity to hold scholarly debates on what tends to remain in individual researcher’s private domain or between lines without getting a chance to be disseminated. How the field research constraints are addressed however often determines the quality of research outcomes.

Presenters are encouraged to reflect upon their past/present field research projects, and draw some lessons, both practical and academic, which can be shared with the audience. Below is a list of potential topics but you are very much welcome to suggest any that is related to conducting field research in China:

(1)    Practicalities associated with field research (e.g. issues of field access, collaboration with local partners, language barriers including dependence on translators);

(2)    Constraints on data collection (sampling, access to government sources, credibility and contamination of field data, etc.);

(3)    Relationship between the researcher and the researched (researcher’s positionality, power relations, insider-outsider dichotomy, boundary crossing, etc.);

(4)    Constraints on international collaboration;

(5)    Cultural encounters;

(6)    Government censorship and data access;

(7)    Research ethics

Each presenter is to contribute a short paper (about 2,000 words). Contributed papers are initially to be published on LSE Blogs. A collective publication in the format of an edited volume may also to be explored on the basis of these contributions. The workshop by nature is going to be very much interdisciplinary, with confirmed contributors coming from Anthropology, Gender Institute, Social Policy and Geography and Environment.

Participants wishing to present their thoughts are invited to submit a 150-word (max.) abstract and a short biography to Dr Hyun Shin (h.b.shin@lse.ac.uk) by 4th April 2013. 

If you are interested in attending only, please also e-mail Dr Hyun Shin to reserve a place. No registration fees required but places are limited.