not quite undergrad, not quite grad, but feeling a research binge
December 21, 2011 8:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I turn my current (quite positive) experience with community work into (a) anthropological research pre-grad or (b) non-fiction writing? Or, how do you conduct research outside of the academy?

I've spent the last couple months in the throes of the anthropology grad school application process. It's over, and now I'm returning to focus on my great community service gig. As a compulsive contingency plan designer, however, I'm hard at work figuring out what will happen if I don't get accepted this year.

One thing I've realized, with some reflection, is that there's a great story to tell with the issue on which I'm working. Specifically, the current literature on the issue could benefit from sustained analysis of local communities, interviews with recent immigrants and families, and a closer historical case-study. I could conceivably partner with my program to set up a long-term research project.

I see two possible ways I could design this: (1) as a research project that I could craft into a research paper, ideally for a publication attempt before I try to apply for my phd program again, and (2) as a project that I could attempt to write about as a journalist, or even in book form. This might be getting ahead of myself, but I think there's something there, perhaps. I spoke to my program director and he indicated he would be receptive of some kind of research project.

How might I go about proposing and designing this kind of research project? I know, for example, that I could find an independent IRB. I have close contacts from my school's anthropology department that would at least review my materials, if not flat-out advise an alum. I could apply for grant funding, or simply do some project design and wait until I'm accepted? This brand of research is a little bit of a departure from what I just applied to schools with (not wholly dissimilar but a different focus for sure) -- however, I like the idea of letting some new energy carry me through a project like this, and just kind of going with whatever results from it.

Any thoughts about this project would be wonderful! Thank you
posted by elephantsvanish to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Get an advisor from your undergrad school in on it as a second author. Adds credibility, builds you a network, and should motivate them to write you a fantastic recc should it be needed in the future.
posted by pseudonick at 9:02 PM on December 21, 2011

I'd suggest positioning it as a work of cultural journalism, innocent of anthropological analysis, partly so that you'll aim to make it more readable and partly so that it's immune from critique on most theoretical grounds. I mean, who knows which grad schools you might apply to next time, if this time doesn't go well, and if you submit this as your writing sample, what you don't want is for someone to think it reflects a theoretical point of view that you in reality haven't had the time to learn and shape in grad school. I've seen tons of grad school apps with lengthy writing samples that came off as boring or theoretically hidebound (e.g. stuck in another decade), which isn't a fair way to look at them, but it's hard to overcome that impression when your point of view is tied to what's current in the discipline.

Maybe just try to tell engaging stories from an insider point of view, loaded with colorful detail, while being careful to observe both journalistic and anthropological ethical principles (which it sounds like you're already aware of). Finding a venue for some long-form journalism online probably isn't that hard.

You absolutely could go another route and position it as research. I'm only thinking that with respect to folks who'd want to read it as research maybe you don't know your audience that well yet, and I could be entirely wrong about that.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:57 PM on December 21, 2011

I'm doing my own independent research on author Iris Murdoch at the moment. I am a member of the IM Society and was encouraged by members - they are really cheered that someone wants to research her just for the love of it.

It is hard, not having a supervisor, but I have gathered a group of post-grad peers who will read and critique it for me and I'm doing it properly, like a dissertation, with research methods set out etc.

Anyway, that's my story. Memail me by all means if you'd like to talk about it!
posted by LyzzyBee at 3:40 AM on December 22, 2011

You might look into CES, "community engaged scholarship." "Community engagement" in general is a relatively new field that's all about creating reciprocal connections between higher ed institutions and communities, and CES is part of that field. The kind of project you're contemplating sounds like it would be a good fit with this more community-based, less traditional model of scholarship. A few places to start:

If anyone at the institutions near you does this kind of work, they might be good people to approach as potential partners. Also, b/c of its non-ivory-tower nature, CES practitioners are generally very open to working with people outside the academy and providing a way for them to be active parts of academic research.

Sounds really interesting, good luck!
posted by aka burlap at 1:10 PM on December 22, 2011

Well, after you go to grad school, you can reflect on your experience and after doing your coursework, have this idea in the back of your head and THEN approach it with IRB approval, theoretical (and advisor) guidance...

(This is what I did. :))
posted by k8t at 11:44 AM on December 24, 2011

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