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October 3rd, 2012 by Kulani Panapitiya Dias

Now What? Coping with post-field-research-problems (PFRP)

Now What? Coping with post-field-research-problems (PFRP)

With a new semester brings new books, new classes, and new conversations. For me it brought on new questions. My period of data collection ended in August, and I am now back in the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich & Democratic) world, one might say, of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. Let the data analysis begin.

Where to start? Balancing 5 classes, a research assistantship and a host of other responsibilities while writing two Honors theses is no easy task. However, this is where ‘real’ learning comes in, in my opinion. Time management and knowing where to start, when you’re faced with an overwhelming schedule and an even more overwhelming set of data to analyze. I remember sitting down, after I had gotten back, opening my laptop, and staring blankly at the 75 interviews I had to transcribe. Where to start?

The end of a research trip is only the beginning of the entire ‘research experience’. You learn the importance of delegation and time management. “Do one thing at a time,” Dr. Vollhardt advised me. Perhaps the most important tool you can have, in my opinion, is a positive outlook. Even when you are bogged down with exams, papers, research proposals and countless interviews to transcribe on top of that, you just have to breathe, and believe that you can do it, and do it well. That is part of motivation. And if all else fails, make a pot of tea and eat some chocolate!

The data itself

 So far, a lot of attention has been paid to my Psychology Thesis work. I thought in this post I would focus on the preliminary work for my English thesis. After much discussion, Dr. Lisa Kasmer helped me formulate my outline for the thesis. Another skill you learn in college – sorting through the myriad ideas and hypotheses and articles you are interested in order to narrow it down to one – or a few – concepts that are navigable and useful to work with in the long run. I have finally settled on using 3 of the 75 interview narratives I collected as ‘texts’ in my plan to write a quite ‘unconventional’ English thesis. I’ll be analyzing the prevalence of Michel Foucault’s ideas of panoptic surveillance within our society along with Louis Althusser’s iterations on theology i.e. how do people entrench themselves in a certain mindset or ideology – or specifically in my thesis, propaganda, by not even knowing it? How do we subscribe to the “system” that is set up by the mechanisms of propaganda that are at work around us, all day, every day?

This goes hand in hand with my Psychology thesis which is aimed at exploring how people justify moral transgressions that they or their group commit. Thus the overarching framework of my project is studying how people rationalize injustices that they may commit. How do good people do bad things? Hopefully I can add to this literature in a few months to come!

The continued learning experience

I remember looking at the LEEP workshop emails and thinking, “I wonder what on earth they could be trying to teach us now.” You tend to question the use of these workshops, because there are so few people (if any) in your field! Perhaps, you think, the time could be better spent talking to your professor, or working on data analysis itself. How much more reflecting can be done?

The surprise for me was that I found that I really enjoyed the workshops because I learned a lot from the variety of the projects themselves. Sometimes one can get entrenched in one’s own line of research and then get focused on one perspective, one lens. Hearing about the other projects really made me think – and really it gave birth to my idea of launching a platform for discussion of research, where students working on Political/Conflict Psychology can get together to write about their experiences, in a language that can be understood by a greater audience, and not just psychologists themselves. There seems to be a lack of political/conflict psychology in today’s policy making world and one reason may be that this research needs to be translated in a language that can be understood by a wider audience. One of the key skills I learned at the LEEP workshops was the importance of articulating my project in a language that could be understood by individuals not versed in academic terminology. This, I’ve realized during the past few weeks, is a key skill that can be extrapolated onto life after college – when you need to describe to your friends, family, and potential employers about what it is you actually did!

 

If you’re interested in my research and its findings and implications, feel free to join the conversation tomorrow at 1.30pm on Spreecast: http://www.spreecast.com/events/post-war-sri-lanka-now-what. You can also tune in after the interview! 

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