The Mutability of Academic Research: reflections on finishing my undergraduate dissertation.

I know it’s been a while since I last blogged, its almost past the point of being excusable, and I would make up a generic excuse like “I’ve been too busy”, “blogging’s the last of my worries, blah, blah, blah” but, while these may be partly true, I’ve actually missed it and no excuse is good enough. I’m frequently reminded of the benefits of blogging in heritage practice (reflexivity, transparency, connectivity, accessibility etc. etc.) on my Twitter feed thanks to people such as my excellent supervisor Sara Perry, and the equally-as-excellent Colleen Morgan (I might write a post on blogging one day, but maybe don’t hold your breath… In the meantime, have a look at this great blog by the University of York Archaeology first year heritage students – a perfect example of how useful blogging in archaeology can be for reflexivity and collaboration, and one I really enjoyed following. Fantastic work guys!). And every time this happens I find myself nodding in agreement whilst feeling a little guilty and wondering why I don’t blog more damn often. Because the bottom line of it is: it’s great, really useful, and it shouldn’t be as hard to do as I seem to make it!

So, after an inexcusable (and very busy) six months – I’m back! It’s time to dust off ‘The Heritage Sight’ and see if I’m actually any good at writing anything which isn’t going to get scrutinised by academics. So to my previous readers – I’m sorry for the radio silence. And to any new ones – hi, and I hope I don’t bore you too much!

Anyway, I thought today was as good a day as any to get writing again. I’m currently sat in a caravan in Perthshire (not my usual haunt, just an impromptu few days with the family), whilst the rain is pounding on the roof (Summer. Standard.) and I’m rewarding myself with a too-sweet slice of carrot cake that I’m kidding myself into believing I’m actually enjoying, and a cup of Yorkshire tea which doesn’t actually taste like Yorkshire tea (probably something to do with the Scottish water) and all because – I got my dissertation results back! And I don’t know how to feel about it.

I don’t mean I’m disappointed, I’m actually over the moon! I mean I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that over a year’s worth of research is over. Maybe I’m too invested in the topic and maybe that makes me a bit weird, or maybe this is normal? (I can’t imagine how it feels to finish a PhD!) Or maybe this is all part of the mutability of academic writing? That is the ups-and-downs of investing your time, energy and money into studying a topic that you frequently convince yourself no one actually cares about, and that you secretly hate-to-love but actually know is very important. Many of you may already know what I wrote my dissertation on but for those of you who don’t (and if you do actually care) I looked into the short term impacts of UNESCO World Heritage Site status on the Neolithic Site of Ҫatalhöyük in Turkey, a site I was lucky enough to go and work at last summer and where I’ll be returning to in a few weeks for the new field season (stay tuned for more on that).

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Unashamed selfie with my dissertation because, as the saying goes “If you don’t take a picture with your dissertation, did you even write one at all?”

I guess in many ways I was lucky with my dissertation. I had a fantastic supervisor who was passionate about what I was doing and always supportive, I had access to a whole Research Project of world-class archaeologists to interview (who were all amazing!) and I found some really interesting results (more on that later… I know, I’m such a tease). Yet no one warns you about the mutability of it all. The waking up in the early hours worrying that what your writing isn’t good enough, that your method isn’t sound enough, that your results aren’t significant enough, that you will actually fail. And even though rationally you know you’re doing absolutely fine, those doubts still creep their way in. Yet with the lows come the highs. The satisfaction when you finish a chapter, the excitement of discovering an interesting trend, the buzz you feel when discussing said interesting trend (apologies to my housemates here for all the times I talked your ears off – you guys are the best!) and the feeling of elation when it’s finished and printed and you’re actually holding it in your hands, still warm from the printer.

 

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Drafting and editing my dissertation. Possibly my least favorite part of writing. Although the sparkly purple pen made it a lot more bearable.

And so I can get why people get addicted to research, but I can also get why some people run as far in the opposite direction as they possibly can. I think in the archaeology and heritage sector we’re especially lucky, the opportunities (and need) to collaborate with others means that the loneliness and sense of “being lost” which often comes hand-in-hand with academic research is lessened somehow. And for that I’ve been extremely grateful! And it’s mostly gratitude I feel in the end – to all the people who helped me get those 10,998 words down on paper. Yet there’s still something scary about putting all your thoughts and ideas down for someone else to scrutinise, to potentially criticise. And that’s it. Criticism. It’s something we all tell ourselves is healthy (it is!) but secretly nobody really likes it. And I’m sure it’s not just me that feels the need to constantly search for justification and approval –  confirmation that what I’ve done isn’t utter rubbish. But I guess my dissertation marks say otherwise! So for now I’ll stop rambling, make another cup of tea, revel in the fact that I succeeded in my first piece of academic writing and try not to think about the fact that in two weeks I’ll no longer be a student… And finally, leave all those that helped me (again) with a massive THANK YOU!

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I think I’ve used this photo before on here but I love it! Collaborating and working with amazing and talented people is one of the things I love most about archaeology/heritage practice and made my dissertation a lot more interesting/bearable! Featuring the members of the 2015 Visualisation Team from York at Catalhoyuk, minus Ian who’s taking the photograph! (Definitely looks like an album cover for some 80’s rock band!) Left to right: Jenna, Andy, me and Sara.

 

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One thought on “The Mutability of Academic Research: reflections on finishing my undergraduate dissertation.

  1. Visual artists too (me, I mean) are often reluctant to hear criticism of their efforts. I was for a lifetime, almost. Then, somewhere, I read these words to such people: “Take your bruises!” Somehow I felt new courage in that idea (counter intuitive?) and ever since I have been reaping riches upon riches from the 95% useful criticisms I get from other artists. I feel my art has improved by leaps and bounds, –because no one gets what is weak in your work as well as a colleague. And scholars and artists of old belonged to groups that would dish it out freely–and they were grateful. Hope this inspires you too!–Carol

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