What Exactly is Fieldwork and How Do I Get Started on My Dissertation Field Research

Ho ho ho, back with another Grad School and Academia series post. I hope they are not becoming too frequent? It's just harder to write about something else, considering what is taking front row in my life now. *drumroll* You did not guess it right Lol. But yes, I am currently conducting field research in what Americans like to call, Africa. Yes, I'm in Africa Lmao. I'm kidding, I am in Nigeria for fieldwork for my research. This post might have several different parts that, depending on how lazy/busy I am, will be posted over the next few weeks (hopefully, not years). Don't worry as you will see in the forthcoming posts, fieldwork is not for the fainthearted oh.

Ibadan, Nigeria

I realized this might be confusing for a lot of people so I will do my best to explain. Depending on your field of work, this is especially in the Social Sciences, but if your work focuses on a region outside of America, there is a huge chance there is no data available for the research you want to conduct. In this case, you would have to visit the country or countries you are studying. In my case, I am lucky enough to be studying my home country (there will be a post on pros and cons of this idea, by the way). Field work, therefore, is collecting data outside of your office or laboratory or the library. This means, field work can be a Zoologist going to the zoo. Or a Botanist going out to study plants. Even people studying Americans also do fieldwork: could be heading out to study prisoners, or cops, or firemen, or Congressmen. But that's boring, let's talk about the more exciting aspects, shall we?

Yes, going out of the country.

University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Now that we have that out of the way, fieldwork varies a LOT. A Whole LOT. And I think that if you are not careful, you can waste a whole lot of time doing fieldwork. it is one of those things that is so amorphous, it can truly never end. So the best thing is to set a date for yourself, a deadline if you will. Because I have seen people conduct fieldwork for two years. And of course in this time-wasting category, I exclude ethnographers. Unlike the rest of us, ethnographers seek to be embedded in a society, to observe and study a way of life by becoming a part of that way of life. I have serious critiques of some ethnographic work, but that's not why we are here today lol.  But be careful, lest it's the tenth year of your phd and you still don't have a dissertation.

Fieldwork can also entail collecting both qualitative and quantitative data, like I am doing. (So ask me questions, guys. If you have any, just shoot me an email. Er...no please SEND me an email. You can never know with Americans, ahem). So with this in mind and coupled with LIMITED funding (cos y'all know in academia, it's always limited), I had/have a game-plan: I am determined to not waste my time. It's really that simple. Everything boils back to maximizing the amount of time I have. I am not saying my specific duration because I don't want you witches monitoring me (I didn't even know whether to post this after I had already left). But yes, generally, fieldwork ranges in duration. Last year, I had a short preliminary field work for one month. Some do more like 6 months to one year. Some do less, like 3 months to 4 months. so it depends on your work and your plan. Now, how can you even get started on your field research? Well, keep reading.

Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria.

1.) Go back to your proposal. I reckon you had or are currently writing one? You must pass and defend one before they even allow you proceed to fieldwork, no? So what did you say you would do in that? Keep in mind that things change when you get to the field. But the more details you can have at the proposal stage, the better for you cos then you can hit the ground running. In your proposal you also probably have explained how exactly you plan on collecting data. Since I am in the Social Sciences, I will give example from the Social Sciences. So for instance, you might need to observe certain groups of people. You might need to interview some key informants. Or perhaps, it's a focus group? Alternatively, it could be archival data that is only available in an obscure library in southeastern Zimbabwe. Or it could be surveys of citizens of that country. Or data from the government. It could be a  myriad of things. It could also be a combination of various methods. As much as you can, explain how you intend to obtain data to test the hypotheses you put forward. I realize this point can be particularly helpful if you are just about writing your proposal. So again, should you have any questions, ask away!

2.) Reach out to people beforehand: now if you are going to be interviewing people, you definitely need to reach out to people in the place you are going, telling them about your work and the fact that you will be coming over for your research. Even if you are not interviewing, and perhaps all you need to do is participant observation, you still need to reach out to folks. In fact, it might be prudent to be affiliated with an organization. The institutional back up can be incredibly helpful. All you have to do is reach out to one person, explaining who you are and what you do. It's a simple enough template saying, you are xyx, a Ph.D candidate at xyz, studying zyx....and so on. Be precise, be concise, and in many cases people respond very well. Not everyone will, but someone will. If you need institutional affiliation, keep reading below but know that you need to have reached out to them even earlier.

An exciting townhall meeting!

3.) Leverage your connections: you might be wondering where on earth you would find someone to reach out to in middle of nowhere, Romania. But you would be surprised. First of all, what works have been done on Romania? Surely, someone before you has gone there for field research. Email them. I found lots of my contacts by cold emailing (yup! worked like magic for me). But I also found some by chit chatting my friends who do work completely different from mine, telling them what I do and where I'm going. And a little oh wow I know this other person who does xyz, and bam it snowballs from there. Do not ever underestimate the power of the connections you have built so far in life. And don't be shy about talking about your work. While in the field, I desperately (emphasis on DESPERATELY) needed something that could make or break my work. I was at my wits' end when I messaged someone who is kind of a personal shero to me, but who I have only met once at a conference. I sent an email to her, half expecting she would be too busy being a badass to respond. By the time I woke up the next day (a SUNDAY), she had responded. And the person she connected me to helped me tremendously. This was after weeks of worrying that my whole plans were coming crumbling since I could not find a solution.  I will NEVER forget her kindness. So talk about your work, and email.

4.) Ask your advisors and professors for help: if you have tried cold emailing, and leveraging your own connections, and nothing bites or you still don't have enough for where you are going, then it's time to pull in the big dogs. For my preliminary trip, I was really shy about cold emailing people. I did not want to be a bother (NONSENSE) so I reached out to my advisor, and he reached out to someone who reached out to someone who was very helpful. So of course talk to professors who do similar works to what you do. Of course, be prepared, not all professors will be helpful. Some do not really like to "share" connections. So don't take the no or the silence personal. However, your advisor probably will and if they don't, honey, we are dealing with a way bigger problem here. Let's talk in camera. By my second time around, I had wisened up and sent emails to any and everybody that could even remotely help. And for the most part, everyone was incredibly kind and helpful. Except for a few jerks here and there. But who cares about those?

5.) Social media: thank God for this thing. If all else above fails, go to TWITTER. Okay so this is dicey because you can't just go one day and then bam find what you are looking for. It takes a systematic and continuous use of it. Follow the right people and just keep on. You can even be incognito, but follow some people whose tweets you like and whose works and reputation you respect. Something would lead to something and then, you would find they could be of help. Tweet at them!

6.) Calculate cost: okay this should probably be at the top, but you need to count your cost. You really need to figure out a very good estimate of what this trip would cost. Ideally, you should have this figured out a year before so you can apply for funding opportunities. Field research is expensive for various reasons; one of which is plans change, and sometimes what you bargained for changes. So set realistic expectations of how much you will need. And apply for funding opportunities like your life depends on it. Because it kinda does.

7.) Figure out housing and other logistical aspects: where will you live? How will you get around? How do you plan on keeping safe?  Please and please, please make sure your safety is paramount. Please. No research is worth your life. To do this, you need to have been in proper communications with someone on ground that can be trusted. This is another reason that institutional affiliations are prudent. You also need to understand you are a visitor where you are, you have to respect their customs and way of life. I mention this because there is often a sheer hubris among researchers that makes them feel like their research trumps all and everything. It doesn't. If in that village or town, they don't allow recorders, then don't record. If interviewing political officers is wrong, then don't do it or at least don't be so blatant about it. I also want to say as a researcher doing field research, ask yourself how you plan to give back to this community that is contributing monumentally to your research. Don't just take and take and then leave them worse than they were. Give something back, in some form.

All of these seem like a good starting point for field research. In subsequent post in this series, we will talk about other things like the day-to-day aspects of field work, where to do your field research and so on. This was incredibly lengthy, but bear with me, a lot of things needed explanation. As always if there are questions, let me know. I am not an expert (not even close since I am still learning a lot and asking questions myself) but I can share what worked/works for me and together we can be great lmao.

Love, and some adventure,


Eating My Way Through Lagos Part II: Some Foods You Should Try In Lagos, Nigeria

Here is part one,  first of all. Second, devil really did not want y'all to see this post because I have been trying to write this for the LONGEST, and I mean THE longest time. Third, I am definitely not a food blogger if the quality of these pictures are anything to go by. Okay so on to the post. Have I mentioned that I am currently in Nigeria for my fieldwork? I probably have. Have I also said I need to post useful stuff on fieldwork? I probably have. Now, have I posted any of that? Nopee, because something is wrong with me. As with part one, I was determined to take as many pictures of food as I possibly could. Whereas the problem with the last one was taking pictures in front of people, the problem with this is finding the time to actually sit down to eat. Of course, none of these people paid me or anything so these are honest opinions. At least, I try to give a honest account to the extent that I can remember because this brain of mine is thinking of a LOT nowadays.

The above was from Sidewalk Lounge, where S's husband threw a surprise get together to celebrate her. The food was amazing and easily the best I have had in Lagos. Loved it! There was roasted corn, roasted plantains, chicken, turkey, asun, all manner of potatoes... a platter essentially. Yeah it was really good. Now, when I told E about this, she was very surprised because apparently she had a bad experience with the food when she went so that's interesting and noteworthy. As for me, I had great food, and great company. All in all, 'twas a great night.

Some more food from Sidewalk. Before

Okay so on to the next. The below was from Casper and Gambini's . I know, I know, it made the last list too. But if you remember, we didn't actually eat the last time. This time, we did. This time around, I specifically asked to not taste the sugar in the mojito and it did not disappoint at all. It was good. They also served some bread before the main course. I remember the food coming out really late, and then we waited an even longer while before the bill came. So note that. As for the food itself, I ordered a sandwich that was too cumbersome to eat and got pretty exhausting really quickly. My friend E had a suya lobster and that was nice. We also had calamaris as appetizers and yes that was really nice.

It took a while to remember this next one, but I'm pretty sure it was from The Place. Again, we gotta do this, Lol: The Place is the name of the place. So this was, I think, a stir fry pasta with their asun. It was not very memorable, but frankly I don't think it was cooked with the intention to be. The Place is basically fast food at this point.

Okay the next is another fast food meal, I think. However, it was really GOOD. From Sweet Sensations or so. Okay it just occurred to me I have not been talking price. For the fast food options, they are pretty cheap affordable. The actual restaurants come with really hefty bills (I'm talking about N10,000 to N15,000 per person without alcohol). Speaking of which, in any currency, isn't that pricey for the services being rendered. I don't know but I know it is pricey for the average Nigerian. To give you a specific idea of what some of these Lagos restaurant, the sandwich from Casper and Gambini's cost probably about N8, 000 or so...for a measly sandwich lmao?  Still I don't believe the regular joe goes even to a fast food when they want to eat. There are cheaper "restaurants" or "buka" options that are really, really cheap. Anyway, enough of the sociocultural and money talk. So yes, this Ofada rice and stew from Sweet Sensation was truly good. It tasted authentic and had lots of meat too. What more can a girl ask for?

The next one is from a restaurant called Bungalow, where I went with my girliess, R and Z. Whew the initials of my friends are something, no? Lol. We had a good time here and certainly NOT because of the food. This food took FOREVER. ha. and When it finally came, it was very underwhelming. Who puts corn in jollof rice? Yuck. Okay, it was not tasteless or anything. It was just really unimpressive. R ordered a burger and My God, I have never seen a sadder looking burger. Actually I did see one, but story for another time.

Okay here is another fast food meal below. Chicken was nice. But rice? Not so much. Oh and it's from somewhere called Chicken Republic, which is apropos.

Now, onto street food hohoho. I don't know how to review suya. I just know Suya can be disastrous or it can be exceptionally good. This one was the latter. Whatever you do, do not go to Lagos without having Suya. Well, except you're vegan or vegetarian, then ignore. The rest of you, make sure you eat Suya if ever in Lagos. You will not regret it. Suya is basically meat, a special kind of roasted/grilled meat with a special kind of pepper. I don't know how to describe Suya so just eat it jare.

Puff puff is another street food you should have. Unfortunately these ones below were not good. They were too thick and then I don't know what monster decided to add pepper to puff puff. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE should there be pepper in puff puff. And I can tell you for free that my people (*cough Yorubas cough*) are probably responsible for this travesty.

This next one I want to talk about is Cafe Neo, not because of the food but because of everything else. A nice coffee shop where you can work in peace and solitude? Yes, please! I was quite impressed to have such a cool sport in Las Gidi. (Oh gosh, remember when we called it Las Gidi. That is sooo 2008). They have various branches in Lagos. And I really really liked the idea of the place. I should also mention, that the coffee and other beverages are REALLY good. Like exceptionally good. The only annoying aspect was that their website boasted of several food options when in reality, they did not have most of them. That was very disappointing. I also suspect this happened because the branch I went was not on the Island.

And there you have it, part II of my food chronicles from Lagos. There certainly will be a part III. Though I should mention, being the terrible food blogger that I am, I keep forgetting to take pictures. Ugh.

I hope you enjoy this. And if you are not Nigerian, I hope you get to visit Lagos someday. A city us Lagosians love to hate, but also incredibly love.



Friday Reflections

1.) Meet men who have taken their wives' last names.

2.) My goodness, it's been too long since I did one of these. I don't even remember how to do this anymore.

3.)  A few things you have lived long enough to know.

4.) I recently started getting these moles on my face and neck, and I can't even begin to describe how annoying they are. Turns out, they are hereditary. Why do you have to inherit something you have no say about and you don't want?

5.) Every black woman needs to watch this empowering speech Angela Basset gave as she accepts the Icon Award at Black Girls Rock 2019.

6.) Why Impostor Syndrome is every woman's weapon.

7.) My God,  I have been writing three posts for weeks and I just have not gotten to posting them. Wow.

8.) Our jobs/professional lives have very clear markers and measures of success. How do you measure success and progress in your personal life even if it's remained largely the same (probably stagnant) for years?

9.) I don't have an answer to that. I'm just posing the question, so I can hear your own thoughts too.