Researching Remotely

My thoughts on concluding my research remotely.

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Well, when I wrote my blog last summer, this was not where I thought I’d end up – back in my bedroom.

In fact, I was supposed to be in Australia right now. My original plan was to spend the first summer of my research in St Andrews and Edinburgh, beginning my research on the female computers at the Royal Observatory. That worked out pretty perfectly. Then this summer, the plan was to spend two weeks or so in Perth and possibly Melbourne or Sydney, Australia, to continue the work and expand into the Australian observatories. Life, it seems, had other ideas.

Although coronavirus has put paid to my travel plans, I am still managing to research the Australian observatories from the comfort of my bedroom here in St Andrews. This is due in no small part to the help I have been afforded by researchers in Australia. Kerryn Davis, a volunteer at the Perth Observatory in Western Australia, was kind enough to send me a summary of her research in the archives there – with her permission, I will hopefully make good use of this when I begin writing up my research into an article next week. Toner Stevenson, who I have not been in direct contact with, has also been extremely useful – her PhD thesis has provided invaluable insight into the work of the women in the other Australian observatories, and will doubtless prove to be a main reference point for my work. Without the work of these two modern women, I would be entirely unable to research the women of the early 20th century who form the focus of my project.

I have spent the past two weeks largely reading and collecting my information together, and trying to familiarise myself with the work which I undertook last summer. The research itself has been incredibly rewarding, and although I am largely unable to do any new original research this summer, I am still able to continue my overall project remotely. I just started to write my article, and that will probably take up my next two weeks. After that, I have a poster to make and a video to film, and then my Laidlaw experience is over!

Despite the difficulties caused by the ongoing pandemic, I am extremely grateful to have been able to engage with the Laidlaw Programme and research such a rich topic. It is a credit to the programme that research continues in the face of everything that is happening in the world today, and I am glad to be a part of it. Above all, I have enjoyed uncovering the work of the truly incredible women, who, in my view, deserve a time in the spotlight of the history of astronomy.

I look forward to sharing the results of my research – from my bedroom to the other side of the world – soon.

Joseph Luke

Student, University of St Andrews

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