It sounds easy, to enter the field. It’s a simple case of unlatching the gates and walking in. What could be simpler, I thought, whilst I stood staring at the gates looking for the latch at the beginning of term. This was never considered. It was just meant to happen, seemingly all by itself. One year I’d be in the library, the next in the field, and the following writing-up. This was the way of a PhD, I thought. My three-year plan.
I’ve heard stories about it, read books about it, and watched videos about it. I’ve seen people walk in with no problem. I’ve seen others take a run at it and hop the fence, and I’ve even seen a few bulldozing their way through without any regard for the landowner, let alone the ethics board. For some it’s nothing. Or so it seems. Then there those who are nudged ever so gently towards the gate. Those that take such tentative steps that you wonder if they’ll ever make it in, even with the gates wide open. Eventually the weight on their shoulders convinces them that this must be done, and only then do they take that final stride. But it wasn’t easy, I can assure you. Such transitions rarely are.
So I find myself in the field. I’ve made it. It’s huge and there’s PhD students everywhere. Now what? It’s certainly not what I was expecting. There’s much that was invisible to me as I sat staring out of the library window these past twelve months. So many practicalities that I hadn’t considered, so many logistical nightmares that I hadn’t anticipated, and most worryingly so little time. All of a sudden the deadline has appeared on the distant horizon, eerily so.
Last years structure is out and I’m forced to build another, essentially around other people’s time. Gone is the freedom of the evening or weekend, replaced only by a quiet morning or lazy afternoon. My working day has become about as unstructured as it can be, changing from day to day, week to week. Am I doing too much, am I doing too little? It’s hard to tell when there’s nothing concrete yet, save for a reel of field notes and pages of observational scribbles. I’m told it will all come together, and I’m sure it will, but at this stage it’s certainly disconcerting.
That said, this field is exciting. I must say. It may not always have decent WiFi, a coffee shop and central heating, and I may find myself bogged down at times, but it has so much more in terms of sheer sense of adventure. Often it simply feels like play, like one big intellectual expedition that I’m responsible for leading. I’m not sure where we’re going yet but it’s going to be quite the trip. I can tell already.
The project is underway now. Finally. It has come off the page and manifested itself as an adventure in the field before it surely screams to be put back on it in the years to come. I for one look forward to my time here.
Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)