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.
Right, OK. We can do this buddy. I’ll help you get through this party without tears, I promise. First things first, you said it was Aunt Mary. Could her first name be in fact Aunt? Are you currently having an informal chat with your supervisor?
Are you serious? Of course her first name is not Aunt!
Jeez, I was just being thorough. Just have a check around for a full bookshelf and office chair, just to be sure.
There are a few books here, but I think they’re mostly ornamental. One’s called ‘Twenty Thousand Games to Play in a Vogon Queue’.
That helps. So this is a family gathering round someone’s house with too much money to spend on coffee table books. I’d suggest casually mentioning you’re looking at reviews of children’s literature from the late eighteenth century. Keep it short and sweet.
Shouldn’t I tell her about the key aims of my research so she knows that I’m interested in understandings of children’s political potential in the aftermath of the French Revolution? Surely she needs to be clued in to the social and literary contexts surrounding these documents?
No sweetie. Let’s not go overboard on your poor aunt. Control yourself.
I’ll tell her about romanticism and radical ideas of childhood.
I think she’ll be interested
She won’t. She’s just worrying about her ice melting in her dri-
-Well I’m gonna tell her.
Buddy! Don’t do it–
…I told her.
And how did that go for ya?
Not good. Her eyes are following the ice cubes in her glass.
She goes ‘uh-huh’ every thirty seconds. I could set my watch by it.
That’s what you get when you ignore me
How was I supposed to know she wasn’t interested in seeing digitised copies of The Analytical Review? Who doesn’t want to see that?
I’m guessing most people
I can’t stop talking.
I am currently discussing the pros and cons of a self-imposed 9-5 schedule during research. It’s like my mouth is moving independently of my brain.
I can see my hands demonstrating the relationship between Anti-Jacobin reactionism and the radical press in slow motion. Please. For. The. Love. Of. God. Help.
This is no time to be petty!
Fine, fine. But this is only because I like you. Try saying ‘Yeah, it’s a bit niche, but I’m really enjoying it.’ Then pretend to see someone else who wants to talk with you (tricky I know).
I think our problem is solved.
Why? What happened?
Mary just flapped her arms at a passing relative and yelled ‘Shots!’ She’s downing a lot of tequila at the moment.
Is this normal for her?
No. She’s usually teetotal.
…Did I mess up?
No, Kid. You did good.
For all those experiencing similar situations this summer, know that communicating our findings to the wider community is a vital part of being a researcher. It certainly helped me distill my ideas into a more refined form, and made me aware of how I can make my findings accessible and (hopefully) interesting for as many people as possible. Good luck to everyone embarking on their projects this summer, and enjoy talking to people at parties.