Thursday, 25 September 2014

"KILLING OUR BABIES": A WISE ADVISOR'S ADVICE

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: ROBIN NELSON, KATIE METHOT, NICOLE RITCHIE

In order to feature a greater variety of student research, we are changing the content of the Thesis Column to a Research Column that will highlight a different student’s research every second Thursday. For the first post, the three thesis writers, Katie, Nicole, and Robin (me!), collaborated to write on a concept that we have all been thinking about: killing our babies.

We get very attached to our ideas

Killing our babies is something that our advisor, Alan Stanbridge, recommended. He meant we cannot research everything we have found interesting and we need to learn how to put aside something we have written or engaged with. This has proved difficult but necessary in order to focus our research as we move forward.

Nicole's babies....she prefers kittens to tiny humans


Well, I have spent the last year developing my thesis. This cycle included drafting my initial thesis concept, focusing and researching it, formatting it into a SSHRC proposal and an official thesis proposal, and then reading throughout the summer. Now, it is September and I am faced by a committee that wants a (fluid) structure drafted as well as a tentative first draft deadline and proposed defense date. While part of me wants to panic, Alan’s advice to kill my babies (or maybe shelve them for later?) is undeniably useful. Sitting down to craft this framework for my ~100 page project, I start to notice where I can plug my summer reading in, where my reading needs to focus, and, most importantly, what really isn’t necessary. Luckily, in my opinion, I am currently applying to doctoral programs, so I can shelve my babies for future research, reading lists, and exploration. Thus, for my thesis, I need to direct myself towards only what matters, using my time and energy effectively in order to get the project done within its parameters, not beyond. The most difficult part to accept is that I can’t read everything relevant or potentially relevant for my thesis. Sometimes that maternal instinct is hard to kick, who knew? Anyone else suffer from this parental affliction?

Knowing it is time to let something go doesn't make it easy

 ROBIN NELSON

At the moment, I am transcribing my interviews (it takes forever) and, at first, I thought I had to transcribe everything because anything could be useful at some point (right?). My babies are massive sections of individual interviews and in one case an entire interview that, while interesting, are not relevant to the themes I plan on discussing. As I talk about my research, I have realized that I will write about the relationship between community museums and the Heritage Branch, the Exhibit Renewal Program, and (possibly) the SEED program (student summer employment). I do not have the time to discuss everything the government does that influences museum public programming in only a hundred pages. As such, sections dealing with the Collection Inventory Program and other financial programs are no longer being transcribed. While an argument could be made (and is by some of my participants) that funding to collections increases knowledge of the collections leading to better programming, sacrifices have to be made! This has sped up the transcription process, my hands hurt less, and I am left with shorter documents to analyse with a better focus. Does anyone have transcription horror stories they would like to share?

Some concepts are more gleefully disposed of than others
KATIE METHOT

Meeting with Alan, chatting about my summer research, and introducing the concept of 'killing our babies' couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Over the last week I've been interested in German broadsheet prints from the sixteenth century. Is it necessary for my thesis? No. Do I think they're super interesting? Yes. Despite how much I have enjoyed researching broadsheet prints, this topic is for another time or perhaps for my PhD (hopefully sometime in the not-so-distant future). Consequently, I've chopped it from my research and set it aside for later. Instead, I am refocusing to continue my interviews and to begin categorizing my existing research into chapters. Over the next few months, I will be structuring my arguments, and adding to holes in my research, not looking at German broadsheet prints (regardless of how clearly interesting they are). Now I am looking realistically at what I want to get accomplished with this project, while also seeing how it can grow in the future. For now, I'll be leaving my babies alone for another time. Can anyone else offer advice (or sympathy) for staying focused on a research topic?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post! To be fair both to myself and to cute babies everywhere (including fuzzy kittens, little bunny wabbits, and adorable puppies of all species), I must clarify that I wasn't really advocating that anybody should actually kill anyone or anything. It was a figure of speech, for heaven's sake, which those smart people - Katie, Nicole, and Robin - all appear to have grasped (thank goodness...) So, although that nice Saturn chap in the Goya painting appears to be having fun devorando-ing his hijo, please don't try this at home. Do what Katie, Nicole, and Robin are all doing - taking some really interesting parts of their current research and putting them aside for the moment, so that they can come back to that work in the future - in the form of a conference paper, or a journal article, or a book chapter. Splendid.
    (BTW, the 'killing babies' line isn't really my fault - it was advice given to me by my own Ph.D. supervisor, Carleton's redoubtable John Shepherd. John also delighted in saying that the only good thesis is a finished thesis - another fine piece of advice...)
    Alan
    (P.S. Can we please correct the typo in the headline...?)

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