In this episode I talk to Lizzie Hubson about her experience of doing non-traditional research, using creative research methods to undertake research in Cultural Geography.

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to R, D and The Inbetweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Prwwxw, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens. It's Kelly Preece here

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And today, I'm delighted to be bringing you an episode about non traditional research or approaching research,

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and research methodologies in non-traditional ways, the benefits, the challenges.

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So I'm delighted to welcome Lizzie Hobson who is the PGR in geography.

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Lizzie, are you happy to introduce yourself? I'm

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Lizzie Hobson from the Geography Department here at Exeter I'm a PhD student in the final kind of throes and stages.

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So I'm spending most of my time writing up.

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So I guess now I would call myself a cultural geographer. That means I'm mostly interested in the development of landscape theory and geography and

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perhaps more broadly about geography of writing kind of effectivity and performance.

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Brilliant. Thank you. So the what we gonna talk about today is, quote unquote, doing non-traditional research.

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So so kind of unpack back a little.

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Can you talk about how how your research breaks the kind of traditional mode of what we expect research to look like a doctoral level?

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So a lot of my work is very methods based rather than

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And so I kind of engage with theory in a more of a framing statement kind of way and think about how we can

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think about ideas kind of differently when we experiment with styles of writing and modes of presentation.

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I guess maybe in the simplest sense

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my project is about therapeutic landscapes and encounters to think about the therapeutic as kind

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of residing more in the encounters between bodies and landscapes and in body practises.

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The problem with some of this research is that it puts forward this kind of.

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And this is me speaking in a in a general sense, an argument that's led to what we can call the medicalisation of landscape amd nature.

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I try and open up what we might judge, as having kind of restorative or recuperative qualities.

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And what recovery might mean. And I'm particularly interested in how creative practises might open up some

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of these spaces and address some of these questions in more open ended ways,

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I guess its pretty, quite useful to go through an example of my work.

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So a part of my project is kind of laid out into three. And I got.

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A really good opportunity to go to Ithica, which is a small island and part of Greece,

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is not a traditional health pilgrimage site in the way Lourdes might be, but it is kind of a health landscape of sorts.

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But it kind of ties with these ideas of the therapeutic come from kind of its Greek mythology.

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So I didn't do Latin or Greek in school. So I was kind of really unfamiliar with these ideas before I got to Ithica

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But Ithica is supposedly the home of Odysseus, who is kind of thought to have spent this 10 years mega journey battling sea monsters and

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going through all kinds of mental torment just to kind of return to his beloved homeland,

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Ithica. And then because of this and with the help of the poet C.P. Caffery, who wrote this famous poem, Ithica, and for many,

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Ithica has come to symbolise this kind of legendary journey that every person makes through life as they look for their own kind of personal Ithica.

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And it's become this metaphor for a kind of supreme goal

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this kind of sweet homeland where you'll find a kind of internal calmness and satisfaction.

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When I was in Ithica, I was lucky enough to spend some time with an archaeologist who took me to Homer's Palace

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no Homer's School, which is also thought to be the ruins of Odysseus' palace.

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And the thing is, when you go there, you expect this kind of super

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grand place like ticketed off kind of all official like English heritage or national trust, what you see with them.

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When I got those kind of none of that. And that's really super glad

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to have my guide because I wouldn't have known what I was looking at.

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There's basically one kind of placket saying you enter the site at your own risk

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as it isn't stable and then nothing telling you what you were looking at.

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So I kind of started thinking about these kind of grand myths and legends and standing amongst this place that was kind of.

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Full of rubble. And I started experimenting with knitting as a practise,

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and I didn't if you know those kind of old school geography diagrams where you get those different layers like sediment.

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And then you've got the granite layer that's a bit harder on sits on top and lasts a bit longer.

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And I think it's probably actually the other way around. But I was thinking about knitting a bit like that.

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So knitting is kind of a way to bring the landscapes, kind of absences and presences in gaps into life.

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So when I was there, I was kind of interested in the materiality of the place.

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That was kind of caught up in this very real process of erosion.

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And lack of funds have kind of stopped any kind of like

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Oh, gosh, archaeological work. And nothing was kind of roped off in the way Stonehenge was.

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When I was talking to my friend, my participant, before I went out on this this trip with the archaeologist,

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her partner actually knew the site I mentioned because he was there.

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Oh, yeah, I've been there.

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I do rock climbing and kind of parkour there as a substitute because there's no gyms, you know, outside it's site for outdoor exercise for him,

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which are kind of real madness when you think about heritage site regulations kind of here in the UK.

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And yeah, I also got to spend a lot time looking at Ithica's museum collections,

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some of the artefacts are kind of rumoured to be linked to as evidence that this was Odysseus' home place.

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So, yeah, we looked at these fragments of kind of urns and tripods and it meant to be gifts to Odysseus and kind of spoke to this magical place.

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But they also kind of opened up the space to talk about anticipating loss and curated decay and kind of heritage, those potentially beyond saving.

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So when you kind of through the process of knitting and forming and reforming the landscape,

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it kind of became for me not just about this this magical tale

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but about visible mending, decision making and uncertain times and ideas about unbuilding in the process of preservation.

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So I started thinking about Ithica, this place of mining memories.

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So that's kind of just one example of my practise.

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I've done different things and in different places.

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That's completely and utterly fascinating.

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So, okay, so you've talked about the ways in which your kind of research methods are not traditional.

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How how does these practises or things like knitting and the way that if I'm understanding correctly,

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that knitting is kind of a practise of recreate and exposing those kind of different layers within these sites?

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How how does that form for part of a of a doctoral thesis?

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You know, as we said before we started recording, I'm I'm very as an art, as a kind of ex artist and lecturer in the arts.

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I am very familiar with this kind of practise.

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But thinking about the kind of people out there that are doing very traditional research that don't have a clue about

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how kind of these sorts of practises can be incorporated for a research project or be kind of an outcome of research.

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How does that work? Like I'm sure quite a lot of different disciplines do is that I keep kind of a field.

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note journal. And instead of just classically kind of doing interviews or something like that, I kind of.

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And then I do a bit of that as well. But, you know, and keep a diary.

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But I also do like lots of sketches and things out in the landscape and things like that.

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So when like and like anyone else, I then write it up when I when I get back and I'm making a lot more kind of it out.

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I'm kind of. Impressive. So it goes alongside a text

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So in the case of the kittting, I kind of I write

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Conceptually thing about ruins and kind of ruination in an essay format.

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And then I also present my my knitting alongside that.

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In that kind of works in photograph form.

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I was really interested to hear you describe it as an artist sketchbook. Yeah, I mean, it's one of those things, isn't it?

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Does this do a disservice?

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That's when one of the thingsmy supervisors said when I think, no, you know, it's probably the best way of encapsulating it.

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It's almost more like a magazine than a traditional...more like a magazine.

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Again, this is probably the wrong terminology, but. Yeah, so I have.

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I have to. I have a lot of I link back to the academic literature, but for me, I'm not practise based.

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I haven't gone by performance. And it kind of opens up another huge kind of can of worms around.

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what creative methods are who uses them? That thing for me.

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It's a way of. Kind of. Using creative methods is a process as a way of kind of slowing down what we think

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we know when I'm sitting with kind of uncomfortable moments at the discipline.

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And I guess if you were going more by performance, you obviously have your your final end piece.

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And that looks very different to what I'm kind of talking about at a non-traditional thesis.

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Yeah, absolutely. And like what you're talking about and how you're talking about it, really.

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The kind of methodology that your approach you're approaching in that artist's sketchbook really it sounds, you know,

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to make a parallel for people who aren't familiar with this kind of thing, it really sounds like kind of how you document ethnographic fieldwork.

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Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, it's it's very similar in its approach, but it's taking more creative forms of documentation and.

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Thinking about data in a much, much broader.

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And way as kind of being beyond.

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And, you know, words, numbers, which a lot of our kind of data and research tends to be either numerical or linguistic.

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But also thinking about. Practises of knowledge and understanding that go beyond the numerical and the linguistic.

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So, you know, I'm thinking as a as a  person with an arts background. You know, we talk to a lot about experiential learning.

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And wht we would call embodied knowing say things that you might know through experience or intuition that you can't necessarily put into language.

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So it sounds to me like you're incorporating all of those different forms of knowledge and learning into kind of one really rich set of data.

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Yeah. It's all about non-representational theory and.

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And yeah embodied and bodied ways and bodily ways of knowing. And I think that that's that's one of the challenges, right,

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of doing this kind of research in an academic environment that even though it's actually not new to approach research in this kind of way, it's still.

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I don't want to always say looked down on, because that isn't always the case,

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but it's it's not valued in the same way sort of across the sector or across all disciplines

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in higher education that more traditional research methods and forms of knowledge are.

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And that's really one of the key. I would imagine one of the key challenges of doing research in this way is kind of having to.

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To justify it to the to the wider academy is that something that you experience?

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I think I'm. I'm really lucky because I work in a little pocket.

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And so I've got a lot of kind of like minded people, which again, I guess is why in.

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Sometimes it's hard to stay outside and kind of go, oh, yeah, is just like ethnography, you know.

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But yeah, there's this challenge of kind of publication and how to judge creative work.

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So, yeah, despite the fact that in my own discipline, there's this widespread support for kind of this creative turn within geography,

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in this kind of acceptance or even understanding of alternative outputs

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It's very varied even I guess by no means universal. Yeah, exactly.

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And I know I find kind of sometimes the articulation of trying to use traditional language like,

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you know, talking about all of the different things in your sketchbookas just different forms of data.

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That's, you know, it still has that. You know, you talked about writing the kind of theoretical and unpacking that is alongside it.

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It still has that theoretical basis, still has that analysis. All of those things that other people are using to create knowledge.

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Yeah. So whether you're in politics or whether you're in engineering, you know, you're you're still doing collecting data and interpreting it and analysing it.

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And you are very much doing that. You're just doing that in a different way.

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Yeah. And I think this is this. I really wish that I could come and be able to show you my work.

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You know, because, yeah, my work is practise based.

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You know, I know. I speak about it. I do it.

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You know, and so it kind of comes up against these traditional forms a bit in a podcast but

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a lot about the journal format, more, you know how well these places are kind of geared up for creative output.

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So I guess one of the issues I come up against in my thesis and which is going to for a whole nother kind of spanner in the works here.

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But yes, so I do a part on Ithica and I also do your part on aerial silks and circus skills.

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And so I'm interested in visual and movement, bodily movements in landscape.

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So I really my ideal situation would be being able to include these videos of performances

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of aerial silks by myself or my participants and demonstrating certain kind of silw routines,

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experiences with gravity in the air. But the traditional kind of word document doesn't really have this capacity.

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So at the moment, I'm kind of working with including a load of load of visual like screenshots not screenshots

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stills from these videos and kind of laid out like that old school kind of camera.

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reel, but. Ideally, I would be able to actually include video or someone read a paper.

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They'd be able to see the video instead of having to do the follow this link. No disruption.

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So you have to. Is imperfect and it's an imperfect option.

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So we talked about the challenges. Let's. Flip it on its head.

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What are the benefits of approaching a this way? What are the what are the benefits to the research?

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You know, on a kind of theoretical basis.

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But what are for you as a researcher what are the benefits and the development opportunities and the joys of doing research in this way?

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I guess for me. And I guess this is quite a personal thing, is that it's about doing something that you love.

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That's sounds like cheesey. So I like super cheesy.

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And I'm going to get even more cheesy because maybe it's because I'm getting to the end of my PhD

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My partner's just finish and he's looking for jobs. And sometimes, yeah, my PhD is a gift.

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Right. I get to spend four years of my life doing something that I enjoy and I want to do.

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And I'm very lucky that I got to write my own PhD and that I'm funded.

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So I'm aware that I speak from a privileged position here.

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But, yeah, I don't think despite all of the stresses that we've kind of talked about, that I could have done my PhD any other way.

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I kind of felt happy and true to myself and I was really doing something worthwhile.

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So, yeah, I did. I'm very aware that sounds very idealistic.

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I kind of spent the first. So I've done creative methods all the way through my undergrad.

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Then in my Masters. I'm very lucky that I kind of fell on my feet and like there's a real hub for it in geography

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And when I started, I was kind of. I never really thought I was ever gonna kind of go into further education,

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and I was really lucky to have some very good mentors kind of help push me that way.

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But when I I thought, I don't know. I don't know what a thesis looks like.

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So I spent probably a bit over a year trying to write a traditional PhD

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I kind of resorted back to these traditional methodologies like interviews and things like that.

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And I really hated it.

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And I honestly think if I hadn't kind of started trusting myself again, I wouldn't have finished and I certainly would have been happy with it.

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So. Yeah, I think. But I think it was just a necessity.

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So people tend to be really reticent to talk about their research in that kind of enthusiastic,

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passionate and idealistic way, which is kind of bizarre on a number of levels because.

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You are not going to dedicate however many years of your life you take to do your research degree to a project.

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If you're not incredibly passionate about it. And incredibly invested in it because you couldn't do it, you know, so.

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And also what we respond when people talk about their research.

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Is their enthusiasm and their excitement. You know, that's that's the thing we respond to as human beings.

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Obviously, we respond to the content.

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But if someone you know, if someone's talking to you about their research and they sound really bored, you don't pay attention.

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And and it's really lovely to hear you talk about your research in that kind of enthusiastic and passionate way,

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because doing a research degree is hard. Like. I'm not trying to sugarcoat it,

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but there are some things about it that are wonderful and positive and that kind of enthusiasm and passion is one of them.

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So what I like to do is to wrap up is ask people to offer some advice based on their experience.

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So basically, you know, if people are.

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You know, looking at doing or have just started doing a research degree that involves these kind of creative methods.

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What advice would you give them based on your experience? What did you wish you knew when you started?

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Yes, I guess from my kind of experience, I would say.

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That you probably have to compromise.

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Compromise is probably the wrong word here, because if you're gonna do something so bold, then you need conviction.

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But. I guess what I mean by compromise is that if you're going to experiment with styles and kind of modes of presentation,

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then you kind of have an obligation to your reader to help them. Get where you're going.

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So for me, I have a framing statement that does a bit of this kind of donkey work.

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It kind of acts a bit like what I was kind of saying in the beginning.

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Like, I kind of started talking about my method. If I hadn't stopped, it's situating them somewhere within the therapeutic landscapes literature.

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So. I love creative writing.

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I do. That's my kind of niche, which I kind of.

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I go from there. I will start with creative writing.

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But for me, I had to kind of come to terms with the fact that there's gonna be some bits of my thesis that are not so beautifully written.

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Because there are times when I'm gonna need to hold my reader's hand and I need to put interludes between between the pieces because,

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you know, we jump from Ithica and then we go to the circus skills.

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Right. So, yeah, compromise in a sense.

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And I guess I'd also say that there's a need to take real care, I guess first picking up supervisors,

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but then also picking examiners to kind of see where you're coming from and see the value in your in your work.

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I've had some encounters where peoplehave just thought they're nice pretty pictures.

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But what are they doing? Ouch. My heart, you know.

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I've had others that I've really got what I'm trying to do and had really critical and productive conversation.

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So quite important.

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Thanks so much to Lizzie for taking the time to talk to me about what is an incredibly fascinating project and about the real challenges,

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but also the real benefits of doing, quote unquote, non-traditional research.

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If there's something about your project that you're approaching non traditionally. I'd love to hear from you and to talk to you on the podcast.

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I think it's really important that we share these stories and represent these

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alternative ways of doing that increasingly aren't that alternative and becoming very mainstream.

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But it can be scary to be the first one in your department to take that leap. 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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