Down the research rabbit hole

I’m now four months into my PhD. Or is that two months? As a part-time student it’s difficult to be certain. The autumn term was hard, not least because it was my busiest time of year at work, but with January underway and a (slightly) more steady pace in the office, I’m now trying to manage my study time more effectively. The problem, which I’m beginning to suspect may also be part of the fun, is that I feel as if I’ve fallen down a research rabbit hole and I don’t really know which way to turn, or how much time to spend in each chamber I start to dig out.

P1020142.JPGYou see these pretentiously arranged books? I’m currently reading chapters in all of them. There are several more on a desk upstairs, to say nothing of the pile of printed articles awaiting a highlighter and annotation – oh, and the very long reading list I’ve drawn up. My research is flitting from cinematic landscapes and documentary theory to histories of television drama and stories about Birmingham, and it’s all a bit mind-boggling. Often I have to pause so I can look up a word in a dictionary (and frequently I still don’t quite comprehend the meaning) and then I come to the endnotes or bibliography and write down more authors and books and papers to explore…

Then there are the films and TV shows. My thesis is, broadly speaking, looking at the representation of Birmingham on screen, so this means lots of watching as well as reading. As I’m trying not to be exclusive at this stage, if I come across anything set or filmed in Brum, it’s added to another list. I won’t lie, it’s pretty great being able to watch Peaky Blinders as research, but looking at audio-visual materials opens a whole new warren to explore beyond just the silver screen and that box in the corner. Type in ‘Birmingham’ on YouTube or BFI Player and there are songs, archive films, travel vlogs, accent tutorials, documentaries, news reports, and it’s fascinating but overwhelming. Where do I draw the line?

I suppose at least, unlike Alice when she asked the Cheshire Cat which way to go after she fell down the rabbit hole, I have a vague concept of where this research will hopefully end up. It is exciting, not knowing what insight or inspiration the next paragraph might spark, or how watching a film about another city might influence my own work on Birmingham, but I do wonder if I’m just scratching the surface of multiple tunnels that lead to nowhere, instead of really digging deeper in a sustained direction. Then again, it’s still early days and I have a long way to go, so maybe at some point, having excavated an enormous burrow, all the tunnels will join up and I’ll crawl out of the other end a wiser rabbit…

Time will tell.

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