My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Interdisciplinarity: Science and Art

Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence is one of many courses offered through the UCL graduate school skills development programme. I have so far been to three of the sessions in the series, on being a general session on interdisciplinarity, and the other two on evidence in statistics and computer modelling.

Late last month I went to another session in the series: Using Science to Understand Art: Contexts and Communication. It’s taken me quite some time to get round to writing about it. This is not only because I have been busy, but because I needed time to think about what was said.

During the course, Ruth Siddall, the course tutor, spoke about her experience as a geologist working with people in museums (arts). Her research interests deal with the identification of pigments, minerals, mortars and rocks. She spoke about how her skills as a geologist have come in useful in her work, but at the same time, how she needed to adapt to communicate with people in a different field.

However, something she was saying wasn’t sounding quite right to me, at least in the way I am experiencing interdisciplinarity in my work. Something felt jarring, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time. I am still not sure I do! However, I think it has very much to do with how she views herself and how I am encouraged to view myself in my work.

She constantly referred to herself as a scientist (geologist) working with people in the arts. She quite readily and clearly identified herself with the field she has a strong background in: geology. Something which has been niggling me about the way I am encouraged to view myself is that there is a strong desire to see me describe myself as a ‘heritage scientist’ (with the caveat that ‘heritage’ is not an adjective describing the noun ‘scientist’). However, my only background in ‘heritage science’ is that I am working within the field whilst frantically scrabbling around to try to grasp at numerous strands of knowledge I feel are important. Is that enough?

Also, what does being a ‘heritage scientist’ mean in practice? What should I consider to be my strong point? Should it be the science? Or should it be the heritage field? I strongly suspect that the suggestion is that I should consider both to be a strong point. But where does that leave me? It leaves me pretty much falling into nothingness…or does it?

There is still quite a lot I feel I need to digest from that session and from everything I have been absorbing and feeling throughout my PhD. The session pushed me into thinking about things more coherently and systematically. That surely can only be a good thing. People say that a PhD is a journey, and I feel that this is an important part of my journey that I need to come to grips with.


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Ethnographic Object Analysis

Another of the courses offered through the UCL graduate school is one on ‘Ethnographic Object Analysis‘. I had planned on attending last year’s course but during the month of May I was on a research visit in Pisa so I had to cancel my registration. I have been keeping an eye out for it all this year, and when registrations started being accepted for this year’s course I immediately signed up.

‘Why would I be interested?’ you might be asking. Well, although I am not working with ethnographic collections per se, I am interested in museum and archival collections. However, I don’t have a museum studies background but a scientific background. Nevertheless, working in an interdisciplinary environment it is always highly useful to understand something of the background of the people you are dealing with. A problem with interdisciplinary work is that often people come to the table with a different way of thinking, methodology and also a different vocabulary. This certainly does not facilitate discussion!

The course was divided into 5 sessions: Analysis, Description, Displaying, Conservation, and finally Analysing Ethnographic Photographs and Archives. I was of course particularly interested in yesterday’s sessions on photographs. I liked the fact that we were presented with a wide variety of materials which we discussed in terms of dating and interpretation, but even further in an ethnographic context, such as what might be being implied by the photographs, or what has been inscribed into them further than what you might see at first glance. It was highly enlightening to see photographic materials from this point of view, rather than from a simply material one.

A plus of the courses was that we were always around 8-10 students. This allowed for much more discussions to take place. Also, there were practical sessions throughout all the sessions. This made it a very hands-on experience, which definitely helped us learn even more from the programme. Also, the fact that the course was not only taught at UCL but sessions were also held at the British Museum and the Horniman museum was definitely a bonus!

Definitely one of the better courses I have attended through the graduate school. I must say that I am very glad to have these courses available. they allow me to learn more about areas I need to know more for my research, as well as about areas I am personally interested in. These courses definitely enhance my experience here!

A Light-Hearted Look at Ethnography

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Computer Skills: Learning and Testing

In this blog I have been writing about courses I have been taking through the UCL graduate school. However, it seems like most of the courses I have mentioned are mainly courses concerned with the research process. I have not mentioned courses such as the IT skills possibilities available.

Getting More from Photoshop

One of the courses I attended was the ‘Getting More from Photoshop’ course. I have used graphics packages, includingCorel and Adobe Photoshop. However, I have always just figured out the one thing I needed and never really explored the possibilities of any graphics package. So when I saw this course available from the graduate school I was immediately interested. I was particularly interested as, since I am working with photographs, gaining some experience with image editing would definitely help (not to fiddle with results, but to prepare useful images and/or prepare images for presentations to show the changes visually).

The course was very useful. Finally I learned what the wand tool does…a very useful thing I must say! Learning about colour correction, and adjustment layers also showed me how I can do some editing that I had been struggling with. I was expecting to learn much more, or to come out of the course knowing everything about Photoshop. But as the lecturer told us this would be quite difficult as there is so much that even someone who is constantly use it can always discover new functions. I do agree with him though that learning a few tools can give you the basic expertise you need to figure out the interface…the rest you can do on your own with experience…and some googling 🙂

European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL)

Ahh – the wonders of graduate school! In the beginning of the academic year I received an e-mail about the possibility of free ECDL testing through the graduate school…I just had to fill in a questionnaire and see if I was chosen. In one of my I-don’t-feel-like-working moods I decided to fill in the questionnaire. A few days later I received the reply: I was chosen to follow this course. WOW! This meant that I had to start to look into what ECDL really entails.

The way the session were divided was that every other Wednesday there would be a testing session where you can either do the exams or mock tests, while during the rest of the time you can do some self-studying and/or drop in at set times to ask questions. Well, after looking at the syllabus and talking to some friends who have done it, I decided that self-study would be more than enough. So on the first testing Wednesday I went down and started to do the exams. I managed to do 5 out of the 7 module exams…and pass. Not bad. 2 more modules to go! I couldn’t make the next one, so at the third session I went down to finish the exams…and I passed!

Why am I remembering this today? Well…today my ECDL certificate finally arrived! I am not sure how to feel about this. I know that this certification is required for certain jobs. However, I wonder if it will be significantly important for any job I apply for…I would expect that people who get a PhD will be able to do basic IT stuff. Also, I would expect that certification would not be the be all and end all. After all the certification only proves basic skills in IT, not any advanced skills. But I always say that extra certification would not hurt! It didn’t require a lot of time, so it was worth doing it (normally it is expensive) just in case.

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Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence

Yesterday I attended another of the graduate school skills development course. This time round it was called: Interdisciplinarity: can there be an integrated concept of evidence, which was the last of a series of courses on Interdisciplinary studies of evidence.

Why did I decided to attend? Well, my PhD is very much an interdisciplinary, bringing together aspects of the sciences and social sciences and humanities. As I implied in my previous post, I am finding some difficulties in determining how best to present my work to a panel of people from different backgrounds, and so thought that this would be a good course to follow. Also, I thought it would help me concretise better my thoughts on bringing together evidence from different fields (often with different vocabularies and expectances) and presenting as a complete project rather than disjointed parts.

The programme was presented by Jason Davies, from CALT. Entering the room (which was not the easiest thing to find ;)), I found a room with around 20 people. I was expecting the group to be much bigger, but I am glad it was such a small group. This gave us the opportunity to discuss the issues being presented (which the presenter gladly allowed us to do), and to get the most out of the session. The session got us thinking about what interdisciplinarity means, and how this affects our work and especially our way of thinking.

Overall assessment? I went into the course expecting some answers. Unfortunately(?) I didn’t get any, but what I did get was a deeper understanding and a more concrete idea of what interdisciplinarity means both to me and to my work. Also, it gave me the opportunity to discuss issues with my work, as well as hear about the issues others, which are more advanced in their studies, are encountering. So though I didn’t get what I went looking for, I think I got so much more. A success then I would say 🙂

Interdisciplinarity: An Issue

Interdisciplinarity: An Issue

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