Dumelang, everyone (yes, I was saying it wrong all along…plural form ends in –ang). I’m back in business for blogging and ready to share my most important lesson from Botswana.
I just returned from New York yesterday presenting my research from last summer at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). This was an opportunity to travel with other undergraduate researchers from WSU to see researchers from schools all around the US and UK present their research.
After three days of oral presentations and hundreds of poster displays, Kevin Rashid, Undergraduate Research Coordinator, remarked to our group that by far, we had the most advanced and professional research than any other school there. While he motivated us to do well on our presentations and supported us and our projects, I couldn’t help but become very critical of my own project and, subsequently, started realizing just how much growth and progress I’ve made as a researcher.
It’s been less than a year since I conducted fieldwork in Ecuador, research that took me 2 ½ months to conduct, but just two weeks in Botswana gave me a far deeper experience than my Ecuador research did, undoubtedly. I realized that a large part of fieldwork is grabbing the bull by the horns. For me, it means taking advantage of a difficult situation and making each opportunity count. Although we may have complained about our tight schedules while in Botswana, I really took something very important away from all those appointments.
I came to Botswana thinking, Okay, I’m focusing on Protestantism as it relates to HIV/AIDS support…this means I need to go to as many churches as I can. But who would have guessed that the two best interviews I had were of a nurse in a rural village and a mutakallim at an urban Islamic Center? Definitely not me! I didn’t have particularly high expectations about these interviews, but I went anyway, even if it involved waking up at 6am to conform to the imam’s schedule!
I suppose, as a researcher, what I learned from Botswana that I never picked up in Ecuador, was that strong fieldwork results simply won’t present themselves in your lap. Staying a foreign country and living with a community and studying them is an important aspect, but a key part that I left out last summer was going out and making my own appointments. I lived 35 minutes away from the capital, Quito, which is not only the seat of central government, but also happens to house the head clerical offices of the Roman Catholic church in Ecuador. What a fantastic opportunity! … that was missed.
I am being very critical of myself and my methods, but that’s what happens when you learn so much from one recent research project and return to an older one. It’s similar to finding an English paper from high school that you thought was amazing at the time, but cringe at your own words years later.
Researchers, much like journalists, need to be assertive in obtaining other sources of information for our projects. Afterall, that’s a great way to gain legitimacy for whatever your project may be.
As a budding anthropologist, you can bet that this won’t be the end of my fieldwork. Heck, this isn’t even the beginning. But I’m definitely looking forward to improving myself and my results in future projects.