Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fieldwork Woes

I was in the field for 9 months last year setting up my research, took a summer break to teach, and am now back in baladelba7th for another 9 month stint.  My fieldwork consists primarily of interviewing and observing participants, which I quite enjoy.  However, what brings me down every time is the scheduling.  I am a person who loves schedules (so long as they are of my making) and have lived all my life by a weekly schedule, which has certain reoccurring events (academic classes, dance classes) around which I plan the rest of my life.

As anyone who has engaged in fieldwork might imagine, this has had to go completely out the window.  My fieldwork alternates between two cities on a weekly basis (I did at least get that scheduled in).  I contact participants 4-5 days before I will be in their city to schedule my activities.  I usually hear back from them 1-2 days before I arrive, often after reminders, and I'm almost always still scheduling my activities when I enter the week. Then, inevitably, they have another commitment they forgot about, or for which the time was changed, or whatever, and we have to reschedule.  So we do.

Needless to say, this makes it very hard to commit to any reoccurring activities, as I feel as though I have to prioritize my research and be completely flexible to make my fieldwork succeed.  Working with a last minute schedule is also completely new to me and rather anxiety-inducing.  Sometimes, I gear up for a ten-hour day and am done in three.  Other times, it's the reverse.  Until the research activity is completed, I'm worried I won't be able to fit it in.  Once it is completed, I'm already worrying about the next one.   Add in that this is my dissertation research, and said dissertation is what I will take on the job market next year, and the job market is pretty much guaranteed to eat me alive no matter what I produce, and it's no wonder that my stomach is a constant bundle of tension.

So recently, in the hopes of making it through the next 8 months of fieldwork, I've been trying to see the benefits of this last minute schedule.  While I still look forward to the end of my fieldwork, to return, at last, to my weekly life, I think there is one bright angle to the last minute schedule--last minute free time.  With my weekly life, I tend to schedule it fullfullfull--after all, there's only so much time.  With the last minute schedule, I can't.  As a result, I have lots of unexpected free time, because for example I've left a whole day open for a two hour activity.  Of course, this free time has to be spend mostly with myself as making last minute plans with others is about the last thing I want to do after all of my scheduling antics with my participants.  So, I generally carry a novel, or if I'm feeling especially virtuous journal articles, around with me, and can happily report that I have read more during my fieldwork than at any other point in my grad school career except possibly Winter Break.  Even better, most of the novels are in loghatelba7th so I can feel pretty virtuous about that too, as after all language skills are essential to research right?

Ahlan wa sahlan

Sometimes I just have too many thoughts to keep them in my head.  They will take up residence here, where I hope they will free my mind and make new friends.