So on this trip home to Australia my passport disappeared. I maintain it was stolen in Tullamarine somewhere in the jostle between Customs and the car park. This was almost a disaster because not only did it mean that I had to organize a new passport but I also potentially had to manage to get back into Britain without my residence visa.
As it transpired the passport turned up after four days, handed in without the wallet and money, found in the car park. So my panic about the visa was no longer an issue. However, because I had had to report the passport stolen I still had to go through the process of getting it replaced.
This process took about a week and a half and during this time I discovered that:
(1) relevant UK websites do not have any particularly helpful information about this specific situation. I can’t be the only person that this has ever happened to …
(2) three different people can ring the UK Border Agency and get three different answers – ranging from just turn up at Heathrow to you have to stay out of the country for three months
(3) The Australian passport office not only requires a birth certificate but also Australian identification – e.g. driver’s license, credit card – even when the citizen lives out of the country. (I had both as it turned out but I don’t know what would happen if I hadn’t)
Now none of this was impossible to sort out, although I’m still not sure what the right answer to a lost residence visa actually is. But getting to sorted out was of course highly stressful and it meant quite a bit of handholding and chauffeuring by my Aussie friends Jill and Barbara. It also meant I just had to be patient and sort through things step by step, meanwhile crossing all digits that things would turn out OK.
The whole situation reminded me a bit of research and the kinds of barriers and obstacles that researchers often face when trying to set up and conduct projects. Mess often happens. The worst case scenario can come true.
In a recent patter comment Simon Bailey talked about the time when a teacher he was observing wanted to see his ethnographic notes and then, when she saw the details he had recorded, decided to pull out of the project. One of my current doctoral researchers nearly couldn’t get her Masters in Research Methods project done because ethics clearance took three months and was then a refusal. She has also had terrible difficulty getting access to one research site on which her question depends, and has then found that the work she is doing with young people is taking three times longer than she thought. To top it all off, barely enough people will give their survey back.
When things go awry for fully fledged academic researchers it’s not so bad – things can generally be coped with and projects adjusted. For doctoral researchers, mess means not only working out how to respond and adapt, but also sometimes they have to face the prospect of no longer having a viable project.
I’m sure that all kinds of research messes happen often. However, just like my visa situation, I wonder why there isn’t more information available about messy situations. Why is the discussion of mess and research-threatening problems such a silent area…. ?? We all know research isn’t clinical and pristine, so why do we continue to present it as neat and unmessy in, say, research methods texts and in research proposals and bids?? Is it because like the UK Border Agency we’d rather not make public the possibility that sometimes the rules are flexible and can be adjusted to take account of circumstances??
I’m interested in messy research and coming clean about it. I’m planning a series of posts about it… anyone interested in guest posting or participating, do let me know.