Building on the Work of Others, or How to Ask for Help

No research is entirely original. New discoveries require vast amounts of existing work to be extended or combined, providing a framework or research method in the work ahead. These foundations are not always smooth and solid however, and researchers must do what they can to work with what they inherit.

When I started my project I knew that I would be working with an existing program, developed as part of a larger system that is designed and maintained by a leading research group in the field of Constraints Programming. What I did not realise was how complex the program would be and how much time I would spend trying to decipher its error messages, before emailing its author, who would come and fix it with a couple of keystrokes. For the first two and a half weeks, I felt like I spent more time asking for help than getting any work done.

xkcd comic of an overly complex and imaginary electric circuit

Sometimes the software I work with seems impossible to understand and to use.

With the idea in mind that I am leading my own research project, this did not feel right. How can I be a leader if I need to ask for help every step of the way? I quickly got out of that mindset and returned to sending another email about some part of the program that I didn’t understand. Although I need help with the tools I use and with the theory that my research builds upon, my own work is set to produce original results and to allow the research team to complete and submit a previously rejected paper.

An SOS signal is written into the sand on a sunny beach.

I feel as if I am constantly in need of help.

In leadership as in research, I will always need to ask questions to gain a better understanding of the methods in use, as there is such a vast knowledge held by others that one person can never have it all at once. We each do our own part and together it forms one large whole, from which we hope to draw meaningful results. Asking for help seemed counter-intuitive at first, but I soon came to realise that it allows me to focus on my own work, while others do what they are best at, and what we produce in the end is far better than what a single person could have done had they attempted to forge ahead alone and unaided.

Effective Cultural Leadership

In the lead up to beginning my research, I must admit that leadership was not on my mind. I anticipated being challenged in terms of self-leadership, but I wasn’t thinking about the ways in which my research might help me to lead others. Yet as I enter the fifth week of my project, the latter has become more apparent than I initially expected.

Indeed, in the past few weeks I have been challenged – particularly in the way of being pushed outside of my comfort zone. A lot of my research is being carried out through fieldwork in the form of site visits and interviews and so I’ve engaged with people in a lot of unfamiliar situations. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend some public events, such as panel discussions and symposia, where I’ve been able to try my hand at networking. This engagement with the ‘real world’ has been really useful for my research. By talking to people I’ve been exposed, in particular, to the practicalities involved in my field, as well as to hear a range of different perspectives. I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to be able to learn from other people’s experiences and humbled by everyone’s willingness to help me out. I’ve also been hugely inspired by examples of leadership that I can personally relate to.

On Thursday I presented my research as a part of a Tate discussion group, where people from various fields came together to discuss their research into some aspect of contemporary art in Scotland. Amongst the conversation, one issue that was addressed was the need for cultural leadership. In an economic and political climate where the arts are continuously being undermined, those who are able to effectively demonstrate the possibility of alternative models of growth, as well as to lead and support others to enact processes of creative development is incredibly important. In addition to this, another issue that was raised was the importance of research into untold narratives. This idea is particularly important in terms of breaking with the traditional canonical history of art – but I feel it is also relevant in terms of my own research interests.

My research is based on a phenomenon that is typically considered a negative thing – gentrification. Gentrification is not often openly discussed in terms of the impact art has in exaggerating these processes, and my research proposal developed from initial skepticism of the role of art and the ‘creative class’ within the working-class or post-industrial urban environment. Despite art’s acknowledged relation to the processes of gentrification, the consideration of issues of exclusion and displacement caused by gentrification are often neglected in discussions of both art and gentrification.

It is important that people are more aware of the social impact of artistic practices. Although it is almost never an artist’s ambition to contribute to these negative social effects of gentrification, understanding the process of ‘creative colonisation,’ as well as understanding the needs of those who inhabit the local area is crucial. It is following from this awareness that the development of more positive, conscientious artistic practices can take place, where understanding the relation between art and the urban environment may allow practitioners to anticipate the inherent problems of their practice. For many artistic practitioners, understanding their involvement in these processes has brought about self-reflexivity in the use of strategies of integration and engagement. In this way, creative organisations may coexist within existing neighbourhoods and art itself may begin to be reconceived as inclusive rather than exclusionary.

Furthermore, my experiences so far have demonstrated that some of the most useful alternative models of urban regeneration are being conceptualized through the arts. These processes can only be successful if the existence of those already inhabiting these spaces is acknowledged, and that the impact and sustainability of these processes is considered before intervention takes place. Over the past week I’ve attended a symposium in Glasgow where we’ve been exploring the possibilities of grass-roots urban regeneration, and ways to occupy the post-industrial city in a sustainable manner. The discussions have been lead by practitioners who are working to build and develop creative forms of spatial occupation and development, as well as to challenge pre-existing institutional structures. These discussions got me thinking about the practical application of my research, and how leadership skills will be particularly useful in the translation of these ideas into action.

In thinking about leadership, I’ve also realised that in many ways this research has provided an unexpected opportunity to explore some issues that are quite close to home for me. I’m from Christchurch, in New Zealand, where in 2011 an earthquake tragically destroyed our city. While being in Scotland I’ve always wanted to contribute to the rebuild – but I haven’t really found a useful way to reconcile my studies of art history with urban planning. In the last week in particular I’ve become more aware of how relevant this research is to this task – perhaps not in thinking about gentrification but in thinking critically about the role of culture in terms of regeneration and sustainable development.

Despite the fact that at times all the excitement and information has been overwhelming, I’m looking forward to processing some of this information over the coming weeks. Being aware of the authority this research may have, and with coming to terms with the responsibility of cultural leadership, I’ll also be beginning to look more into the ways this research can further become a useful contribution to the continuing discussion of contemporary artistic practices in Scotland.



What happens when things don’t go to plan?

In the run up to the summer, I was feeling hugely prepared. I had timetables and outlines, and clear goals, and I’d bought a notebook to write them in. I had observed in clinics, and contacted a wealth of relevant people. I was pretty sure what I was going to get out of my internship.

Oh how wrong I was! A few weeks’ later things are looking very different.

I was initially focusing on the literature, and what had already been said about my subject. I had a huge list of sources, and a lot to write about. Though somehow it wasn’t really answering my question. After some input from others, it became clear I could achieve something much more relevant and worthwhile asking my questions to real people…not google scholar.

That’s where it all got a little bit chaotic.

My project is based around decision making in cancer patients; mainly focusing on why patients chose to have chemotherapy. One way of achieving this is through evaluating the way in which these decisions are made in clinics, and how patients perceive their decision after the fact.

For a very good reason, in order to ask these people questions you have to go through a whole world of approvals. You need to know what you’re going to ask, what you want to know, and why.  You need more clear goals, and reasoning, and the data that backs you up. There are a number of hoops to jump through, and most of these consist of quite long forms. Yet surprisingly, it’s not even this that is the difficult part, it’s finding the right person to get approval from. I seem to have become trapped in endless email loops.

Despite being a little bit stressful… okay, a lot stressful, I’m now happy with where I am. Objectively, compared to my plan I am off track and things are “wrong.” However, this just doesn’t seem right. I feel I’ve learned just as much about my chosen topic as I have about research in general. There’s so much I thought I knew, and really didn’t. I have spent time in oncology clinics, and in a hospice, and met some truly inspiring people in the process. Every extra place I’ve been, and person I’ve met has taught me something that is shaping my project.

For me, it was initially hard not to feel a little lost in paperwork, and a bit like an imposter in this world of grown up research. Yet, chatting with my supervisor, a consultant, and especially the others doing a project, has reassured me that this isn’t a unique experience. Things may not go exactly as planned, and I may have to adapt, and change, and come back to things. However, that doesn’t mean that things are going “wrong.”

I guess, if things are always going to be exactly as you expect, what’s the point in doing research in the first place?


Best of luck to all of the other interns, I hope it’s going well!
Beth x

The Many Colours of Perovskite Chemistry (The Many Complications of Perovskite Chemistry)

Just a few of the different coloured powders I’ve made so far.

When you first hear the words chemistry, one’s mind naturally wanders to scientists showing cool explosions or reactions that involve lots of colour and different smells, hazardous or not. I can tell you after over 3 weeks working with lots of different hazardous powders that one does not wish for explosions in most chemistry research. However, while the chemicals I’m using are toxic, there is typically no cause for alarm when synthesizing them as I’m simply spending most of my days grinding different coloured powders together and then firing them in an oven. Sounds thrilling right? You can imagine I have a lot of time for reading papers in between the heating steps, which typically take up to 3 days to complete.

From the time demanding process I reached my first real roadblock in my research about a week and a half ago. Since my project idea is rather open-ended and is therefore inherently more exploratory, the challenge of time management is my main issue at the moment. With only 8 weeks for my internship and seemingly endless amounts of different chemical products that we can try to create, I’ve struggled a bit with how to narrow down the path of production that I want to take. I have talked to my supervisor and he has helped me decide which derivatives we should focus on, so that I would have a little more structure to my last 4 weeks. We’ve decided to stick to attempting to make lead based derivatives less toxic (by substituting in similar sized, but lower toxicity metals for lead) and a more interesting type of sodium, chlorine, metal combination that has exciting possible electronic properties.

While the chemistry behind the basis for my project is relatively simple, (and I won’t go into detail here, otherwise you would be reading a 5 page long blog) the applications of the products I’m producing are as intriguing and useful as they are complex to understand. I have not, and probably will not be able to fully understand the entire chemical make-up of the perovskite products I create (for those of you who are not chemists, a perovskite is just one type of many different structures that solids can form into – see below). What is more useful for me is knowing some of the basic electronic properties from the structure and how those can apply to things such as electronics and memory storage.

Basic Perovskite Crystal Structure

As an example of useful applications for these materials is helping create non-degradable memory switches for data storage. The type of electric properties that perovskites have is called ferroelectric. The short explanation of this is that the structure of the material can switch between two different phases of charge. This can then be applied to a binary number (0 or 1) and allows for switchable memory storage based on the changes.

So far, I’ve had a blast with my project and the postgrads that I get to work around are also very cool and helpful whenever I forget my basic chemistry (believe me it happens more often than I would like). This past 4 weeks have been positive and helpful in understanding more how to deal with challenges in a research project and who you can go to for help. I look forward to some of the results we might have in the next 4 weeks now that we have narrowed down our scope. I would also like to say here that I am quite thankful for the members in my ALS group, because as well as having other people to help you with problems you might encounter, I enjoy chatting to people with more similar areas of research and know that if I get tired of being isolated in the lab, I can go find someone near me to talk to about being isolated in the lab.

I hope everyone else is enjoying their research as much as I am, and I do apologize a bit for having written a blog mostly about chemistry, but I am just so excited about what I’m doing that it was hard to find a reason to right about anything else! Good luck to everyone else and I can’t wait to keep reading about other people’s experiences so far.

“See-sawing” through the summer

Four weeks into my internship I have been thinking about my actual research as well as the process of it as a metaphorical ‘see-saw’. Here is why:

Source: Richter Sportgeräte

Securitization and elections: a place for contestation

I have been kindly given the opportunity by the Laidlaw Programme to conduct research on how securitization occurs in the 2016 Austrian Presidential election campaign. At its core, securitization theory posits that there are no external, objective security threats, instead certain issues become security threats through a discursive and intersubjective process. By engaging with the so-called “second generation” of securitization theory I am hoping to be able to highlight how securitization moves evolve, and how they are contested and challenged within the context of election campaigns.

From the UK’s Brexit vote to the US presidential race, to me, security seemed to be ubiquitous in the election campaigns that I witnessed over the past two years. My project is entitled ‘Multiple Speakers, Competing Discourses’, inspired by the observation that in election campaigns there are several speakers of security who aim to articulate different, often contrary things, as threats to security. Taking this as a starting point my goal is to show that election campaigns are a unique context in which securitization occurs. After transcribing and translating the main televised face-to-face debates between the candidates of the 2016 Austrian Presidential election, Dr Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer, I have started to trace and map a sequence of securitization moves. Whilst speaking to my supervisor, Dr Faye Donnelly, we came across the idea of visualising this process with the help of see-saws as it aptly captures the back and forth movement, the on-going contestation and the various counter-moves between the candidates.

Van der Bellen opposite Hofer during a televised debate. Source: Austrian Press Agency

Losing momentum

On a more personal level, I also experienced a continuous back and forth in my motivation level in the past weeks. The first few days were slow but steady. Settling in and getting an overview of what was to be done was relatively easy. This was also thanks to the Laidlaw Leadership weekend back in March when we had to start thinking about our project’s objectives and possible risks that we could encounter while doing research. After the first week my research rapidly gained momentum to the point that I spent almost a whole day and night reading only on the intersection of securitization and social identity.

However, just like after being on the upside on a see-saw I found myself dropping back on the ground again quicker than I thought. The vast amount of research on my shoulders started to outweigh the enjoyment of it and it was hard to push my own motivation up against that. I kept reading and reading, without knowing where to stop and unsure whether the material I had looked at was relevant to answering my research question. I felt stuck, unable to move.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

An illustration of how I felt my research was going.

Unload, reflect and keep moving

I actually took a day off, and put everything I was reading aside. Revisiting the material provided to us during the Leadership Weekend, such as the time management matrix, explaining my research objectives to friends and family who do not study International Relations, and especially talking to Faye helped me to recalibrate and bring back movement into the stagnant research situation.

As the weeks go by I am still in the process of balancing the workload, so that I can enjoy it and not get overwhelmed by it. I keep going back to the project and time management skills that we looked at during the Leadership weekend to reflect on which parts are actually relevant to my research question. Unloading those things that are not relevant at the very moment has to be one of the biggest lessons I have learnt over the past weeks, and is something that I am going to continue working on in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, going back and forth is not a bad thing. Like on a see-saw, it is more fun when there is a continuous up and down, rather than no movement at all. For me, it is just about making sure that these fluctuations are balanced and not as extreme, so that I do not get stuck again.

The whole Laidlaw program, including the Leadership weekend, getting to know fellow interns and working on a research project that I am really interested in has been a great experience so far, and I am looking forward to the second half of the program. I am grateful for the amount of support we as Laidlaw scholars have been getting; to Cat and Eilidh, to friends and family who have to endure me pestering them with securitization theory and especially to Faye, who has been giving me invaluable advice and guidance. I hope everyone is enjoying their time doing research, soaking up some sun and see-sawing through the summer themselves!

On Talking to People at Parties

There is one thing that unites every Laidlaw Scholar’s experience. Regardless of what discipline they are working in, whether their research means treks to far-flung places on the globe or working in a lab, we will all know this. Each and every one of us will be asked to explain our research at parties. Sometimes it’s a bemused elderly relative. Other times a fellow student will ask “what exactly are you doing this summer?” I admit I began to prepare a standard answer after about the ninth or tenth time. Yet, I still managed to misjudge what each questioner required of me. Some were genuinely interested in what I was doing, and in these cases, my enthusiastic response seemed appropriate. I suspect some (like my dentist) just found it funny to ask me a question when I was literally incapable of answering it. Others were simply being polite, and here I think the maniacal glint in my eye made these poor souls regret asking rather quickly.  The problem is that I find my research fascinating, and have a bit of trouble remembering that others might not feel the same way. How could anyone not be mesmerised by the topic of reviewing Eighteenth Century children’s literature? Surely such disinterest is a symptom of a wider disorder? Therefore, as much for myself as for my compatriots, I have produced this handy piece- ‘So You’ve Been Asked About Your Research Project In A Social Situation’

Hey, Buddy. Good to see you out and about. Socialising. Interacting with other humans. It’s a big step. This might help you with the ‘talking to yourself’ thing too. Having a good time?


What is it?

Someone’s asked me That Question again!

Are you sure?

What do you mean am I sure? I’m pretty sure I heard ‘What are you researching this summer?’ come out of Aunt Mary’s mouth!

Oh thank goodness. I thought we’d have to address that other question again. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t find any other explanations for your ‘friends of the Babadook’ outburst…

Nope. Just the old summer project problem. Continue reading

Perseverance is key!

I’ve now finished two weeks of my internship, but I feel like I’ve been working on my project for a long time already. As part of my project, I’m planning to go to Morocco to interview several writers about their relationship with language, and why they have chosen to write in French rather than Arabic. I decided to try and line up my interviews before my project started, so I started working on this during Spring break. It’s definitely been a lot more challenging than I anticipated and I’ve learnt some lessons in the process!

Firstly, actually tracking down the authors has been a lot more difficult than I had expected. I had planned to simply find their webpage and send them an email, but I soon discovered that isn’t how things work in Morocco! A lot of the writers I wanted to interview aren’t particularly well known internationally, so finding any information about them at all online was a challenge. In most cases, after a lot of digging, all I managed to find was the name of their publisher. Next began a seemingly endless trail. Countless emails to various publishers, the British Council in four countries, the Institut Française, the National Library in Morocco, emails to conference organisers and a letter to New York later, but I felt like I was getting nowhere. Data protection became my nemesis.

The second lesson I learnt was that although in my opinion, my project is fascinating, the prospect of being interviewed by an undergraduate was perhaps not so appealing to the ‘big shot’ writers, who frequently get invited to talk on Moroccan TV and at international conferences. I had possibly set my sights too high, and started to contact some slightly lesser known writers, with a lot more success. I was gutted to not receive a reply to any of my emails by the writer I most wanted to interview, and who I had hinged a lot of my project on. On the other hand, this led me to do a lot more reading into Moroccan literature, rather than focusing only on the most well-known writers, and I’ve discovered some amazing novels along the way.

I’m looking forward to my interviews with a mixture of nerves and excitement, mostly nerves at the prospect of conducting an interview in French for the first time, but I can’t wait to finally meet the writers behind the novels I’ve been reading over the past few months.

Scanning the Stromatolite Barcode

“9-to-5”: these 3 little words have always given me heeby-jeebies. I envisaged a fulfilling career as a light-hearted nomad with a geological hammer and compass walking the heart of inaccessible wild mountain peaks while catching a whiff of fresh breeze and Alpine sunshine.  This romantic appeal has driven me through all the report-writing workload during the undergraduate Geology course and motivated me to get the most from four years at St Andrews.

I felt extremely fortunate when my application for the Laidlaw fellowship offered an opportunity to marry my long-term life goals of wild exploration to cutting-edge research at St Andrews.  My supervisor, Dr Timothy Raub, and I agreed that I would do geological mapping on the iconic island of Islay, most famous for the spectacular scenery and eponymous whisky brand, but also for unique rock exposures that could resolve some puzzles of Snowball Earth glaciations, extremely severe ice ages in early Earth history. Amazingly, during these events ice sheets could have extended all the way to the equator! Hunting for some baryte minerals at Foss mine near Aberfeldy and visiting the Edinburgh and Glasgow geological museums were equally important to solve the enigma posed by those astonishing glaciations.

I knew that until mid-June I would focus on literature review and preparing rocks already-at-hand to provide context to those I would later collect in the field. Indeed, for almost 2 weeks I have mainly cut rocks originally collected 40 years ago and then (to my surprise and initial scepticism) scanned their polished surface with an ordinary office scanner.

Rocks are very simmilar to books: you can “read” them, and “scan” with ordinary office scanner! One can alos create a small “puddle” of water on the scanner surface to get the best results.

Good news: such notorious 9-to-5 (10-to-6 to be precise) lifestyle CAN tantalise and excite. Some thrill came from the possibility that the diamond saw might cut off my fingers. But so far, so good – thanks to extensive health and safety induction in the rock preparation laboratory (although I do need to keep reminding myself not to accidentally stare at the scanning light when the protruding rock surfaces prop-open the scanner cover).

Diamond saw for cutting rocks in action (photo taken during the rock-cutting “tutorial” delivered by my supervisor, Dr Tim Raub). This wonder apparatus is found in the rock cutting/grinding/polishing laboratory in the basement of Irvine building

I started to enjoy my cutting/grinding adventures even more when I realized how unique those samples are. These rocks are called stromatolites, created when microbial communities precipitate calcium carbonate layers and bind trapped particles of clay and silt inside of sticky polymeric secretions. Such microbial activity creates spectacular bands of alternating pale-dark material.

Two scans of the polished surface of the stromatolite samples. The dark material is mainly clay and silt. The pale layers are calcium carbonate precipitated by bacteria. This spectacular banding can be analysed statistically using specialised software.

From 720 to 635 million years ago during the aptly-named “Cryogenian” Period (the timespan including most Snowball Earth events), and before macroscopic animals had evolved, stromatolites were ubiquitous within mid-to-low-latitude coastal and seafloor sediments. In contrast, modern stromatolites are very rare, mostly known from East African rift lakes, some parts of the Bahamas reef, and in very salty Shark’s Bay in Western Australia.

Some of the stromatolites I am working with are actually from Australian Shark’s Bay.  Others are older Australian rocks associated with Cryogenian climate changes.  Crucially, it might be difficult to initiate such a study using new samples, as Australia restricts stromatolite collection and export for conservation reasons, much like dinosaur bones or human artifacts.

When these rocks were collected in 1977, no one realized that these ancient rocks are finely-tuned clocks and can give invaluable insight into the conundrum of Cryogenian glaciations. The internal banding patterns and shapes of stromatolites can provide unmatched information on the changes in the Sun-Earth-Moon system, which, in turn, can reveal causes, character, and timing of shifts in Earth’s climate from one extreme to another.

Therefore, these stromatolites are indeed a very valuable contribution to the project goals, and I’m eager to explore them statistically, before progressing on to the field part of my project. And actually, this Thursday, I broke away from St Andrews to visit Foss Baryte Mine. Although it was such a great time-off in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, going into much detail would require another few hundred words.

Instead, I would just say that I am so grateful for this chance to do something useful this summer, and to use all the difficulties of the research project and leadership training events to become a brighter researcher, a more confident leader, and to enjoy my life in all its varieties. And since the variety is the spice of life, I wish all interns to work hard on their projects, but also sometimes escape from the reclusion in the archives and find inspiration for the new bright ideas in that thought-provoking summer air!

The Return of Old Demons or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Books

It was three days into the project and I had already accumulated a small army of books. There were big, cloth bound, crackly-paged books, filled with drawings of the ancient monuments, sculptures and inscriptions I will spend the next 10 weeks studying. Others were new, dust-jacketed hardbacks, crammed with conference papers in scores of languages that I hardly recognise. There were small books, there were big books. There were books filled with cramped, spidery typeface; books covered in the pencilings of long gone students; and books that were so heavy I’d convinced myself that carrying them to Classics counted as a work out. Stacked in various precariously angled towers around my room, they had already completely overrun my desk, had reduced my floor to an obstacle filled minefield, and had even launched sneak attacks when I rolled over in bed only to find myself stabbed by their hard corners.

In sum: there were a lot of books in my room.

But the problem was, that whilst these books contain all sorts of exciting things; theories and information I am genuinely enthused by, and evidence from mysterious and obscure archives and museums; they had started to take on an air of menace. In these megaliths lie hundreds of years of academic study, by internationally renowned experts and intellectuals, and although this is at once awe inspiring, the sheer scale of their scholarship had begun to petrify me. Every now and then I would find myself frozen, staring in silent panic at the names of the intellectuals who have defined these fields. Those texts are the products of years of education, experience, and academic discussion; crafted by people with more letters after their names than I thought was possible. They are milestones, pioneers and revolutionaries.

And there I stood, before those dog-eared pillars of knowledge, a lowly undergraduate. Somehow, somewhere, in this crowded and overflowing academic landscape, I needed to offer something different; and that, is terrifying.

It was in this state of panic that I found myself festering earlier this week. Whenever I tried to think logically about the work I needed to do and the plans I needed to make, I could feel an underlying sense of hopelessness about my own inadequacy when faced with this academic heritage. Yet at the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware that although ten weeks had initially felt like an infinity of time, the longer I let fear grip me, the deeper I let my own self doubt embed itself into my psyche, the harder it will eventually be to wrench myself free.

At this point, it began to dawn on me. The self-doubt and panic I felt had not been created by the books or their authors, they are just the latest incarnation of those old fears of inadequacy and unworthiness that have stalked me since adolescence. These were merely old foes in a new disguise.

Whilst the return of these old demons may at first may seem horrifying, in this revelation I also found hope. Yes, in the last decade these anxieties have not been eradicated, but they have not stopped me from learning and working and creating things I am immensely proud of. I am not facing a new adversary, but something I have grappled with before and managed to overcome.

In the end then, the books were ‘just’ books- their malevolent superiority merely projections of my own fears. And so, I found myself able to approach them again, with excitement and reverence and the recognition that the only monsters I would find in their pages were creatures of my own creation, who I know, I have the power to tame.


Thoughts from the Archives: They’re not all that dusty

Every organisation has a past and engages with it in some way. Click on the ‘History’ tab on an organisations website, for instance, and you can usually read about its foundation and the progress that has been made since then. Yet while organisations talk about their history and organisational theorists draw from these histories to construct theories, this often done in a way that historians would not recognize as history at all. History and management are often seen as opposed: organisational theory reduces history to ‘story-telling’, while historians are suspicious of management’s emphasis on universality and theory. The broad aim of my project is therefore to analyse whether there is potential for organisational theory and a critical approach to history encompassed by postmodernism to be reconciled despite these differences. My goal is to find out how to write a postmodernist history of an organisation and what the implications could be for organisational practice and theory.

To break down this task, I will focus on whether and how organisational archives should or can be adapted to allow for a postmodernist analysis. Usually when I tell people I am studying organisational archives over the summer, the conversation ends there. However, archives are interesting as they provide important evidence required for historical analysis and offer the chance to implement an increased awareness of history at an individual organisational level. My research will take place at Transition St Andrews, who have very kindly granted me access to their archives. Studying what they are storing and how it can be used to construct alternative narratives is particularly interesting due to huge range of activities and people involved. Their projects range from organising the bike pool to zero waste initiatives, the community gardens, and much more. My plan is to categorise what is available in the archives, conduct interviews with Transition staff to discover their rationale for archiving and write an alternative narrative based on what I find. From this, I will then create recommendations for Transition to adapt their archiving practices to facilitate the writing of new narratives. While the plan seemed neat on paper, this was what I saw in the archives this morning:

After finding, among other things, an inflatable palm tree and an axe, I realized the realities of social science research were both messier and more exciting than I had anticipated. The biggest challenge now is figuring out what to prioritise, as the scale of the collections means it is impossible to survey everything in as much detail as I had hoped. Following the leadership weekend, I am also very aware of the ethical implications of my research. Constantly being vigilant about not disturbing the organisation and ensuring anonymity is sometimes difficult, butultimately necessary for a high quality piece of research. After a week of desk research and months of ethical approval paperwork, however, I can’t wait to get stuck in!

As a joint honours Modern History and Management student, the Laidlaw Internship has been a fantastic opportunity to discover the possibilities for links between both disciplines. I initially applied because the flexibility of the Laidlaw Scholarship would allow me to pursue my research interests in a way that a dissertation would not. Having to work with a supervisor from each school and balance both perspectives can at times be a challenge. Aspects that may be straightforward in a single subject, such as deciding on appropriate terminology, have become the topic of many conversations and emails, as meanings can vary hugely between a history and management context. Already, however, this has made more aware of the assumptions that are often taken for granted in both disciplines. Additionally, it has opened my eyes to the possibilities for research each discipline to influence the other and the importance of having the appropriate channels to facilitate this. If you are considering the Laidlaw Internship as a joint honours (or really any) student, I would definitely recommend it as a unique opportunity to develop your degree.

Best of luck to all the other interns, I can’t wait to read about your projects!