Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Moving forward

It's been a hell of a year for me so far, in both good and bad ways. I lost my grandmother and, most tragically, my younger sister, on two awful consecutive days in February. I passed my prelims in March. I got married in April. Now here I am halfway around the world in a country where I don't speak the language very well trying to begin my fieldwork. It certainly hasn't been a boring year!

It is with some trepidation that I approach my first field season. I'm at the end of my second year of grad school but haven't collected a single bit of data yet.

It's not that I haven't been making progress- the nature and location of my project just means I haven't been allowed to collect data yet. I've written a handful of successful grant proposals that have made the field work I'm about to do financially possible. I received two fellowships. I've successfully negotiated enough red tape in Ukenzagapia to keep a herd of elephants under wraps. I'm learning the language and the culture here.

Clearly, the next thing for me to do is collect data, but my nagging fear is What if I actually suck at this part of science? What if nothing I've planned works at all? What if my labors this summer don't result in anything publishable? What if my ideas really weren't very good after all? What if I'm actually terrible at collecting and analyzing data and all I can do is write about ideas for great projects but not actually do them?

I'll have to be clever. I'll have to be flexible. I'll have to be willing to do something different if things don't work out as planned. I'll have to do it all without any on-the-ground guidance from advisors or committee members and limited access to scientific literature. Hopefully I'll encounter the odd scientist or sciencey-tourist at Nyota with whom I can discuss things, but for the most part I'm on my own.

Herb's parting words were, "Have a good time, and be flexible. This is a time to remember it is fun to do fieldwork, not fret. Do what can be done."

So, here I go, moving forward into my next stage of research to do what can be done. Before the week is out I'll meet my field assistants, arrive at my field site, and start putting these plans on paper into action. Or perhaps I'll be scrapping them entirely. Stay tuned...

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