Thursday, 2 June 2016

Where did all that time go

I can't believe it's already June, getting close to a year in my job at Newcastle. I can't even call it my new job anymore! It's been an amazing year so far. Even though I have been swamped with designing new modules and getting used to the teaching and admin processes here, I have really enjoyed everything. I even managed to get some research related activities in. I applied for a NERC new investigator grant back in January, which in itself was a learning process. 10,000 words in total for that application, and that wasn't even the hard part; sorting out the finances for an international project split between two institutions (my co-I is at Bristol) was more of a headache that I expected. Then the reviewing process, oh the reviewing process. Despite being told that being interdisciplinary is one of my major strengths, and I do believe that it leads to better, more innovative research, it makes things surprisingly hard when it comes to applying for funding. There's the first problem of ticking the box for which panel you belong to (archaeology? archaeological science? Quaternary science? Soils?). My research is pretty much always a combination of different subject areas and methodologies. Then there is finding people qualified to review the proposal. An expert is the biomolecular methods for example is unlikely to be aware of the archaeological significance, and likewise an expert in the archaeological and Quaternary environment aspects may not be able to comment on the appropriateness of the methodology. I would like to think my case for support was clear enough that even non-experts could understand, but there was a last minute panic where I thought I wasn't going to get enough reviews to even be put forward to the panel! We did manage to get someone in the last week though, so fingers crossed. The reviewer comments were all pretty positive, so I guess I've done the best I can, now it's just a matter of being judged against all the other applications, which is happening imminently.

What else did I get up to this year. I'm 6000 words into a very theory heavy paper. Science is so much easier. You have some questions and a hypothesis, collect samples, do lab analysis, generate data, then sit and work through it in a nice logical fashion, and it either supports your hypothesis, or not. Hopefully you can answer at least some of your questions, and identify what you need to do to improve things next time. Time consuming, but straight forward. For me anyway. The really hard bit is the interpretation - even scientific data needs to be interpreted. You can answer some defined questions, but what about the bigger picture? What does it all mean? How much can we rely on our data and the flawed, incomplete samples that are inevitable in archaeology? How do we even know that these patterns we observe are related to the activities and processes that we assume they are? It leads you down a philosophical path that requires very careful thinking about the actual process of research, every step that we take, and whether we can really make the leap from some analysis to grand statements about the past. I doubt it is going to be my most popular paper, but it's something I need to do, if only to clarify my own thinking, though I do hope others find it useful as well.

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