As undergraduate students on the St Andrew’s Laidlaw Scholarship programme, we took part in a leadership-focused weekend in March. There, we were encouraged to be self-reflective about our strengths, weaknesses and lessons we learn during our time on the Laidlaw programme. During this first summer of research, I have certainly had time to reflect - helped by lockdown meaning that I, like everyone else, have been left alone with my thoughts a bit too much! However, until now I haven’t written down my thoughts, so as well as hopefully being interesting and relatable to other Laidlaw scholars, this blog post will serve as something I can look back on in the future.
- Research design and planning is important!
One of the first challenges I faced was wrestling with my research question and methodology, and ultimately deciding to change the focus of my research after a week and a half. When applying for the Laidlaw scholarship, I decided on a self-defined project, focusing on the link between climate change and migration, using the case study of Guatemala. As a key part of my research I wanted to conduct qualitative interviews, specifically with officials from local or international environmentally-focused organisations, as I am interested in their work. However, once I started my research I began questioning the validity of the conclusions I would be able to draw. I ultimately decided that my chosen research question and determination to carry out interviews did not fit together very well. I know that changing direction is common in research, and I’ll cut myself some slack as this was my first time designing a research project. However, I think if I had spent some more time refining my research design earlier, I may have saved myself some frustration. I ended up deciding to alter my research to examine how non-profit organisations can help people tackle the effects of climate change in Guatemala and prepare for the future, in a community-led, empowering, way.
- Sometimes taking a good break can be more productive than trying to keep going
When I was puzzling over my research plan, it was easy to become overwhelmed, sitting at my desk going around in circles. This was exacerbated by lockdown restrictions leaving very little option for a change of scene or time with friends, both methods that I would usually use to relax and refresh. Progress was slow, but I should have taken a proper break or shifted my attention to some smaller tasks whilst I refigured my research question. On a more positive note:
- I can make decisions and lead myself
Deciding to change the focus of my research, although it happens for researchers all the time, felt like a big deal because I had already spent time reading things and researching organisations that would no longer be particularly relevant – I also thought I may need an ethics amendment. Despite this, I decided to stick with my instincts and am now much happier with the direction of my research. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking and end up being quite indecisive sometimes. However, this small achievement reinforced to me that I am capable of being self-directing, and that telling myself ‘I’m indecisive’ is itself a ‘limiting belief’, a concept we discussed on our leadership weekend.
- Stay positive when things don’t go completely to plan
Getting slow responses from people who I had invited to participate in interviews was disheartening at first, as I felt that if I conducted too few I would end up with too little to say. However, I found that once I had the first interview under my belt and an open dialogue with the participant, it got the ball rolling as he was extremely helpful. Having reminisced at the end of our interview about his master’s research, telling me he understood the frustrations associated with setting up interviews, he kindly introduced me to another contact over email who I will be interviewing soon.
- Speaking to other Laidlaw scholars really helps
I have struggled with questioning the usefulness of my research, and whether I will actually be saying anything new in my outputs. From conversations with other scholars, I have found that they have similar concerns and we have helped remind each other that personal development and experiences are as important as our final physical outputs. Furthermore, research is not perfect and recognition of limitations and gaps in our research can be important points of discussion in our reports. Although we sadly have missed out on some of the social side of the Laidlaw programme this year, online conversation with my peers has proved really important. Everyone is experiencing many of the same concerns and challenges with their research and there is also a great mix of perspectives which helps when you need advice.
Overall, I have learned a lot about research and myself throughout this process so far, but will try and not bore you, and leave it at 5 things! I would like to thank Lord Laidlaw and the Laidlaw Foundation for giving me this fantastic opportunity. I would also like to thank the Laidlaw Team at St. Andrew’s and my supervisor Professor Ali Watson, for the support they have provided me thus far.