In this special mini episode, Kelly Preece talks to Léna Prouchet about adpating her research project due to COVID-19.


Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Podcast transcript


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Hello and welcome, R, D And the in betweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece,

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and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hello and welcome to this special mini episode of R D and the In Betweens.

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So one of the projects I'm working on at the moment at work is really trying to gather information

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about how people's research projects have had to change due to COVID and how they manage that.

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And when I spoke to Lena last week, she talked a little bit about how actually.

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She started two weeks before the start of the pandemic, and that changed the nature and scope of her project quite substantially.

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So I wanted to take some of these conversations and make just a little special mini episode about how Lena adapted her project.

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Yes. So I guess at the beginning we took a really inductive approach to this project.

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And I mean, the pandemic happened two weeks after I started the project.

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Yes. So the plan at the beginning was to collaborate with Cool Eartch

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So from the beginning, I was supposed to work in their offices two days a week so I could get to know them and get to know their projects.

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And after the plan was to go to Peru because they have a project there.

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So the Latin American project they have are in Peru.

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So I was supposed to do this exploratory trip where I would meet with the communities cool earth partner with.

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And we would come up with a research topic that would match everybody's interests.

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Unfortunately, this was not possible because travelling to Peru was not an option.

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So what I did was very much to tighten my links with Cool Earths so trying to understand their project

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through Cool Earth itself and not the communities with the plan of going to Peru in the next few months.

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So kind of know adapting my approach. And this was made by me attending most of their team meetings.

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They have we also have meetings where we only talk about my research and I

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also present my research project and how it evolves quite regularly to them,

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to their team in the UK. So the team I was talking about are based in Penryn, but also to the country team they have in Peru.

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That's really great and it does sound like you've had. A lot of freedom to shape the project.

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Whilst I appreciate you know, it in organisational sense,

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whilst at the same time being quite directed by not being able to go to Peru and the impact of COVID19,

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I wondered if you could say a little bit about that experience,

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about coming in with a kind of really clear understanding of what you were gonna do,

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go and work and research these communities and then having to kind of really early on shift the focus of the project because of the pandemic.

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Yeah. So that was that was a tough experience, especially.

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I think it depends on people. And some people, they can adapt very easily.

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But I'm a person who really likes to plan things. So I had applied to thisPhDposition.

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The research proposal was already written. There was already the research question and the different steps of the research.

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And for me, it was very reassuring because I would never have applied to a PhD and come up with a research proposal myself,

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because I thought that I was ensured that my topic would be relevant.

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So I thought if someone in academia identifies those gaps, it means they're expert on that.

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So, I mean, it's it's helpful to do research in this area.

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So this was very much my approach or I was only applying to project that were already super defined.

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So I arrive and I have all this list. But like a to do list and it's very reassuring, especially since you don't know where to start.

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And then two weeks after everything changes. Not only as a result of the pandemic, I think my project would have changed anyways.

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As I told you, because I needed you to take more of a business and management approach to it

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And so eventually now when I would look at my research proposal, I think that I.

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I did it myself. Like I really transformed it.

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The only thing that remains from the beginning is the partnership with Cool Earth

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And I think that that's the most important part. And I think I feel proud about it because I feel this is something.

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Yeah. That was the result of months of work and collaboration and discussions.

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And it's actually I have this sense of ownership that I wouldn't have had with the initial proposal.

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So in the process of it, it was very hard.

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I had months where I was coming up with a research question every week because I was stressing out a lot about it and thinking,

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okay, I'm never going to find a relevant topic. It's never gonna happen.

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I had those phases during the summer, but eventually it worked out.

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So the process was tough. It was definitely worth it.

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And now, yes, I'm happy.

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Although I know it's going to change a lot when I start fieldwork and the approach is going to be totally different in the final work.

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But for now, I'm I'm pleased with. With the topic and the approach.

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Yeah. And I think there's a number of things that you said in that which I think are really important, which.

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What I've been discussing a lot with colleagues, and it's not to in any way downplay the impact of COVID on people's research projects on it,

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and it has had varying degrees of impact where kind of people have had to,

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you know, shift to doing things, you know, doing interviews or whatever on line to completely,

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you know, in in a lot of the ways that you don't like completely redesigning the project.

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But it's interesting to hear you talk about that kind of flexibility and adaptability and the importance of that and the

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also the kind of slightly philosophical recognition that research is about change fundamentally.

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And, you know, when you talk to any researcher, but certainly any, you know, postgraduate researcher like yourself,

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where they start when they come in with a proposal and where they leave when they, you know, submit their thesis.

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Are always two incredibly different places.

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I'm not. And I think that's that's reassuring because, I mean, when you start to feel work is you're not open to what you're seeing,

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what people tell you in you have your agenda in mind, in your just telling people, I'm going to do this and this and this.

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I mean, it's I don't think that's a very constructive nor ethical approach.

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So I think it's good to. It's even necessary to to remain open minded during the entire project, especially in my case,

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where I work with indigenous communities, where communities who have been over researched.

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And it's interesting because I had the opportunity to talk with an anthropologist that work with Cool Earth last summer.

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And she told me about her experience of going to the communities and during the community assembly.

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So members of the communities telling her, yeah, but what ways should we take part in this?

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It's always the same process of you Western researchers coming on taking our knowledge and leaving and we never hear from you again.

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So what are the benefits from Forest? Right. So if you take a more participatory approach and saying, OK, we're gonna remain open,

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we're going to construct this research together and we're going to identify your needs and see how the research projects can benefit,

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can benefit you, then I think that's that's the best way of doing it.

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Yeah. And I think. I think that's really interesting and the issue of of of ethics.

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I think that was really interesting and I'll come back to that in a moment. But.

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As you were saying that I was thinking about, well, actually, when you do get to do fieldwork now,

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the framing and the approach of that field work will be very different.

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Having worked within within the organisation in the U.K. for, you know, a year or plus and actually the kind of the way in which that will.

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Inform. The way the way that your approach that and I guess the additional context and knowledge and skills and all those sorts of things that you've gained from.

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Taking that step back and spending time with the organisation. Yes, I think it also there are some pros and cons.

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So, of course, the pros is that. I know.

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I know more about what's happening in the community, the relationship between Cool Earth and the communities with UK and also Peruvian team.

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So it's very good that I have this communication with Peruvian teams because they are the ones who go to the community more often.

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They also have technicians that live with the communities. So I have this insight.

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Well, on the other hand, then it gives me a certain perspective and a certain vision.

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I don't think that's bad. And I think any researcher has has biases.

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You just have to acknowledge that.

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And you I mean, from the recommendation that I had in the various articles, I could read about that when you arrive,

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even though you're in embedded research within your organisation,

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when you arrive to fieldwork in the communities, you're not working for the organisation.

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You have to make this clear to community members. Of course, because you have to tell them that you're independent and what they're going to tell you,

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you're not going to going to report it in any way. So it's it's important for the trust and the relationships you're you're building with them.

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But you also have to try to put aside what you've seen before and really take

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this new approach and trying to understand from scratch what's happening there.

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And this is very challenging. So the way now I see I'm going to try to to address this is to spend an initial

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phase of one month in the communities doing only participant observation to.

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Yes, to try to understand how he works there. Also to prove that I'm there, too, to work with them,

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but not to to steal anything in terms of of knowledge or practises, really to to build those those trust relationships.

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And then from there, from what I've seen during the past, leaving the reservation and from my previous learnings with Cool Earth and the interviews,

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I'm going to you then deciding on on follow up methods such as, I don't know, interview or focus groups.

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But this will come in second time. So can you say a little bit about how you approached or went about thinking about how to change the project?

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So, yes, after I think what mattered for me that I tried to get in touch with other PhD students

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or postdocs to ask them about this process of reshaping their research topics,

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because I know this is something that happens a lot for PhD programmes.

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And I thought it was interesting to have the to the experience of my peers and some of them and told me, well,

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first of all, think about yourself, because you're going to live with this project for the next now three.

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But it was four years at the beginning.

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So if you don't like it, if you're not happy to to read about it, write about it every morning, then it's not going to work out.

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And this is something I had kind of forgotten at the beginning because I really wanted to comply.

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And to be sure, I was ticking the boxes. But then, yes, as the months came along, I thought, okay.

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I have to find this balance and I have to find this topic that also pleases me in something I'm passionate about.

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So this took really a long time. I started in March and they came up with the final idea in November.

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And my supervisor, they had reassured me from the beginning that it was normal.

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It was going to take a long time. So you had to be to get lost in the the literature jungle and then see which angle you wanted to to adopt.

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Thanks, Lena, for that insight into the reorganisation of PPhD project.

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Two weeks in, I'd be really interested to talk to other people who've had to change their projects due to COVID.

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So please, if you're interested in sharing your experience, good.

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The bad, the ugly. Please do get in touch. And that's it for this episode.

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Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe and join me.

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Next time we'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.


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