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Fieldwork

Many of you will conduct fieldwork away from Edinburgh during the course of your PhD, this page contains practical considerations and requirements that you need to undertake in relation to your fieldwork.

The list below is not exhaustive and if you have any additional tips that you think should be included, please send them to Lindsay Hunter (L.Hunter@ed.ac.uk) in the Graduate School Office. The Graduate School runs fieldwork workshops (with the IAD) once a year, it is recommended that you try and attend one prior to your departure. Details, when known, will be advertised on the workshop page on the Graduate School website, and emailed out to all research students.

Emergency Contacts

Your Supervisor(s) are your emergency contacts so ensure you have emergency contact details for them. In the event of an emergency and you are unable to contact your supervisor(s) please contact:
During office hours (UK time 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday):
Lindsay Hunter: +44 131 651 1587
Edinburgh Global: +44 131 650 2257
Out of office hours:
Edinburgh Global emergency number: +44 131 650 2257

Ethics

You should have been through the Ethics approval process as part of your first year board, information available here. Any concerns regarding ethics should be discussed with your Supervisors in the first instance.

You should research all the ethical requirements and data protection rules before you go. Speak to your supervisor/other students who have undertaken fieldwork in your area.

Risk Assessment Forms

You need to complete the online Overseas Travel and Risk Assessment form.

The risk assessement must be approved by the Graduate School Director or Deputy Director (PGR), you should complete and submit the form for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of travel.

Visa

Find out what visas/permits you require to conduct your research (live in the country) and apply for these in advance.

Travel/Medical Insurance

If you are conducting fieldwork overseas you must obtain travel/medical insurance for the duration. University of Edinburgh travel insurance can be applied for via an online form, here.

Anyone who requires travel insurance should complete the online application form. All fields must be completed in order for the application to be confirmed, including a travel risk assessment if required.  The system will generate an email confirming that the application is being processed and will be confirmed within two working days.  It is therefore essential that travel insurance is arranged well before the departure date.  The confirmation email will provide the emergency medical contact number, a link back to your application and links to various websites which will provide information on travel.  No further documentation is sent out by the University.

Foreign Travel Advice

Up to date travel advice is available from the UK Government website here.

Leave of Absence request form

It is a University requirement that if you are away from Edinburgh for a month or more you must have a 'Leave of Absence' recorded on your record. The request form must be submitted to the Graduate School Office (Lindsay Hunter) by your supervisor prior to your departure. The form can be found here. Please ensure that your supervisor has completed and submitted the request form.

Further useful tips:

This is in addition to the above and is a summary from a recent IAD fieldwork event.This is not an exhaustive list.

Paperwork
  • Ensure you have all the correct visas/permits in order to conduct you research.
  • Be prepared for additional, unexpected bureaucracy. Accept that your fieldwork may take longer than initially thought and build this into your planning.
  • Draft a timetable before you leave and include within it empty blocks of time. Always have some sort of fieldwork activity you can pick-up and put-down in case of cancellations etc. Build in time for holidays.
  • Ensure you have all the relevant vaccinations etc.
  • Create a check list of everything you need to do before you leave.
  • Organise insurance (see above).
Researching the field
  • Learn about the culture of your field-site - even if you don't need to for fieldwork, try to learn some of the local language.
  • Ensure you know about any possible risks in your field. Is there likely to be protest / social unrest / fuel shortages etc. Look at the Foreign Travel Advice website for your country and check back regularly.
  • Make sure you have a general sense of the routines/timetables of your key informants and plan accordingly. Take note of religious/public holidays.
  • If possible find a 'social' gatekeeper or contact who can help you orientate you on everyday issues in the field.
  • Book/Find accommodation in advance and know where it is in relation to your field-site.
  • Check what the transport situation is like - will you need access to a car?
  • Look carefully at the acknowledgements and methods sections of past work in your field.
  • Make contacts with organisations (NGOs etc.) in your field site. Even if they are not directly related to your research they may yield useful contacts.
  • Make sure you know where the nearest hospital / medical centre is.
  • Ensure you know where the nearest British Embassy or Consulate is in case of emergency. A list is available here.
Communications and Record Keeping
  • Figure out how often and how you will contact your supervisors before you leave. You are required to maintain contact with them so please ensure you respond to any attempts to contact, even if you do not have anything new to report at the time.
  • Tell as many people as possible about your proposed research. This can lead to some unexpected contacts.
  • Keep a research diary / keep a note for reflections.
  • Buy a local simcard for your phone (it will make communicating with research participants easier).
Things to think about
  • How best to make contact with people in your field before you go.
  • Ensure that you take care of yourself - particularly if your research area is difficult / upsetting. Fieldwork is exhausting and can be draining.
  • Friends are important - particularly academic ones. Fieldwork can be lonely at times.
  • Think about doing test trials / interviews before you leave. Once you are in the field you may only get one chance so best to iron out any problems beforehand.
  • Think about using a contact at a local university.
  • Look into how to access libraries / archives etc. before you go and ensure you have all the necessary paperwork with you.
  • Take as many photographs as possible.
  • You do not need to know everything in order to say something.
  • The points at which you are surprised or confused tend also to be the points at which you learn something new. Challenges and problems can also be interesting data and useful to write about. Gaps where not much is happening with your research can be used for reflection and writing.
  • There's always something you'll wish you could have doen differently, both on a big scale and in interviews etc. Reflect on this but do not let it take over.
  • Be flexible!

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