Data Collection Diary: It’s good to be back

Months at home has meant the data collection parts of a PhD has been a little difficult. But with things finally opening up again, it’s great to get back into the swing of things. Hear from blogger Ellie King about her summer adventures doing data collection in museums.

After a long year of working from home, it feels so good to finally get out there and do some on-site research. My PhD looks at visitor experience in museums, which is difficult to do when they’re all shut because of national and local lockdowns. This wasn’t the end of the world for me though, as planning and developing evaluation methods is just as important as actually carrying out research with visitors. But I must admit, by about February 2021 I was all planned out, so I sat twiddling my thumbs (don’t tell my supervisors!) awaiting for my research site of Oxford University Museum of Natural History to open. Finally, in mid-May, it did.

And it felt SO GOOD to be back. Just to be doing actual proper research. Talking to visitors about their day, encouraging them to fill out one of my surveys that I’d spent six months meticulously perfecting. Working with volunteers who had offered to help me out, and catching up with front of house staff who I hadn’t seen in so long. It made me feel like I was finally doing something valuable, something I could tell my parents about where they didn’t immediately ask ‘what’s the point in that then?’

Collecting data at Bletchley Park.

I absolutely love my research, and the bits where I get to stand in the museum asking visitors to let me know how the experience of the exhibit was is my favourite part of all. I did this PhD because I wanted to do something where I felt I was relevant and making a difference. The days over summer I spent in the museum made me feel like I was achieving that. Not only was it great to meet and chat to so many different visitors – something that a lot of us has felt was missing over the last 18 months – but I was collecting important data for the museum to use. As I write this blog, I’m on my way to the museum for a meeting about the next exhibition we’re developing: developing using my evaluation data and research. This is one of those pinch me moments, one of those ‘oh my word it’s actually happening’ moments.

Collecting evaluation surveys at Beamish Living Museum of the North, where I got to dress up as a 1900s pit village teacher!

Regardless of what your research is, we all have these ‘properly doing stuff’ moments: whether that’s in the lab, archive,  or field site. Data collection can be a really challenging and tough part of a PhD, but for me it’s perhaps the most rewarding (so far, although I can’t imagine the thesis writing slog is very fun). Especially if you’ve spent months theorising what this data is going to be, to finally be able to collect it and get moving on your research can be so exciting. As I had a quick look over some of the returned surveys from museum visitors, I had a feeling that what I’d planned had paid off, and that my ideas worked. I haven’t done full analysis yet, but that inclination is a great feeling, knowing that it’s not all gone to waste.

The pandemic has been tough in so many different ways. For me, it was the endless waiting, planning as much as I could but getting to a stage where I couldn’t progress any further without actually being in the museum. To finally be able to collect data is so rewarding: I feel like I’m being valuable, productive, and progressing the way I want to at last. It’s amazing to look back and see what a massive step forward I’ve taken, after being in the starting blocks for so long.

What is data collection like in your research? Let us know @ResearchEx or by commenting below!

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