What Exactly Happens During Fieldwork and/or Field Research Pt. 1

I did not forget about this at all. I don't have a reason for why I'm just writing lol. But expect more posts on fieldwork in coming weeks or months or years ha! Okay so I have since been back from fieldwork and actually writing up the research now. It is NOT fun. Okay, I should not completely say that. Some parts are actually fun, others are tedious. But that's life.

So after having defined fieldwork, field research, and the variants, and even how to prepare for it, the next question is what happens when you are in the field. You may be asking this because you are planning field research and you are worried, anxious and curious about what to do when you get to your destination. You may just want to read about this because you are curious. Everyone is welcome.

Whenever someone sends me an email now saying someone else told them to reach out to me for advice on fieldwork either generally, or in Nigeria, I'm always sooo giddy to help. I love receiving those emails and I always make sure to respond fast! I was once that person shooting out cold emails asking for help from strangers, so I have promised to pay it forward as much as I can. Part of that is writing this post. As I write this, I will try to retrace my own steps. And this is very important because before I left, I was also really looking for information and found none. It's weird because excellence is expected of you but no one really tells you the how. So it matters to me to share something about this. I will say though, that, time has passed, life has happened and I may miss some things. For experts reading this, feel free to jump in the comments to fill in the gaps.

Out and about - in Ibadan

Now, you have successfully defended your proposal, maybe you are even lucky enough to get funding, then set a date. Yes, set a timeline for field research. It is possible that you will get to the field and realize that you need more time, in which case you will extend it. No matter what, be focused enough to set a time to end. So basically, be focused and disciplined, but don't be too rigid.

Next, get ready for where you are headed. This means know the climate and temperature, and pack accordingly. This means, mosquito repellant (if necessary), comfortable clothings, hats, sunscreen, protective gears (if you will literally work in fields or something), toiletries you absolutely need and will not be able to get in Timbuktu. Pack enough to last you for  a while. This all sounds very basic but just keep them in mind. Remember that you should have figured out logistics like housing and transportation BEFORE you even leave your home country.

If you have planned well, you have already have a tentative calendar to work with. So I will skip that. Ultimately, what happens during your fieldwork depends a lot on the discipline you're getting your degree in. But to give some perspective, I will use myself as an example. For me, before I even left the states, I already had some interviews scheduled. So as soon as I arrived, that set the ball rolling. I believe I got into the country on a Thursday or perhaps Friday. Either way, that weekend, I caught up with my friends and on Monday I began work. First, I went to another state entirely to meet with academics and other researchers. This way I could ground my research in theory and also situate it properly within the field by having conversations with people who live it.

It's one thing to do research about people of a country or region (in the Social Sciences), it's another to actually go to the place you are studying and get a real feel for it. So interviews, interviews, interviews; talk to people who live and breathe this, who have been doing this for a while, and who know the people. So yes, interviews. For an extreme introvert, I will confess that this part got really old quickly. I made the mistake of scheduling several interviews in a day and I got burnt out really quickly. I was always so drained after conversations that I could barely think and my productivity suffered a lot, so think through this and pace yourself accordingly. Perhaps you are a social butterfly and this makes you come alive. Perhaps not.

Out and about - Otto in Lagos

Please, be sure to follow every necessary protocol. I haven't mentioned this in any of these posts but I assume you know this: you need IRB approvals before launching ANY research on human subjects. It protects you, but more importantly, you need to protect your research subjects too. Anyway,  apart from interviews and talking with people (politicians, data people, people in the civil society space, academics, local leaders, stakeholders, regular people etc.), I also administered a fairly large survey for quantitative data which cost time and money. We can talk about this some other time, but that also consumed a lot of time during field work. Specifically, I had to code and extensively revise survey questions using a software,  I had to train my enumerators, and I literally would go to the field to make sure they followed the strict measures. Man, fieldwork was tough lol. Apart from these, I  also did a lot of participant observation, which like the name sounds is basically observing people and interactions; ethnographic work basically.

The above paragraph is a good overview.  Because it is now an extremely long post, I will break this into two parts and continue in a subsequent post. In part 2 of this, I will give a description of typical day in the field. And I promise I won't wait weeks to post it hahaha.

Welcome to March, people!



No comments