The backstories of research

Mosaic in Manchester Victoria Road Station

Mosaic in Manchester Victoria Road Station

Another day in Manchester and another route into work. If you follow this blog you will, over time, become quite familiar with the city centre. It is one of the places I love exploring and drawing inspiration from. Yesterday an earlier train brought me into Manchester Victoria Station rather than Oxford Road.

A wonderful building undergoing massive reconstruction but still retaining some of its Victorian magnificence. The old wooden facades to the ticket offices and amazing mosaics on the interior walls retained in the midst of new modern structures.

Another route into work to be explored and other choices to be made.  A choice between busy streets lined with the usual chain stores and hustle bustle of people en route to work or the twists and turns of smaller unfamiliar back streets, quiet places, small independent shops. Two different perspectives, different stories residing in each, waiting to be shaped depending on a turn to the left or a turn to the right. And yes of course another analogy with research waiting to be made.

This one stems from many conversations I have had over the last year but more recently by a conversation I had several weeks ago with Rob Young, screenwriter, photographer and a great guy. Rob spent time with our team and he and I were talking about something I have written about before (the heart language of research). As we were talking I was describing my interest in the backstories of research and how they are heard rarely in the public domain but are the stories which cut to the heart of what is means to do research.

What are backstories? Well, slight artistic licence being taken here, but for me the backstories of research are  the stories we tell each other about what takes place in the background of research. They are not the main story which gets published in journals and presented at conferences or the sanitised stories about how to ‘do research’ presented in textbooks. They are the real stories about what it means to do research.

Not the story that takes you through the different stages of doing an interview in someone’s home but the one which tell of adventures and exploits when trying to locate a house in some far-flung destination; of tussles with digital recorders; the dilemmas about how to get the TV turned off without causing offence; how to deal with squawking parrot completely obliterating all signs of audible conversations; how to deflect attention away from the ‘extra family member’ who decides to stay in the room.

These are the stories that are shared with colleagues, in supervision (sometimes) and when researchers come together. They are the stories which, as researchers, make us laugh, cry, raise our eyebrows in exasperation. But, unless you are part of the community, they have a tendency to remain unheard. If you were a phenomenologist you would collect them to understand what it means to ‘do’ research.

The interns I have been working with recently have been on a journey of discovery and, coming from a clinical perspective, started their internships with a perception of what it means to ‘do research’. Over 30 days they were immersed into the day to day world of researchers. They discovered the backstories of research grounded in the lived experience of researchers and it was these stories which helped to inspire them, to challenge them and ultimately to shape their thinking around whether or not to pursue a career in research.

The backstories of research are powerful, and are the stories people interested in research want to hear. They give voice to experience and are authentic. If you want to really know what its like to do research these are the stories to seek out and explore

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