Following a busy start to 2016, 2015 now seems like another lifetime. However, having been asked to write a reflection on my travels for my grant awarders at the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre has jogged a lot of happy memories of my time ‘Down Under’.
My trip to Australia came at exactly the right time in my PhD journey. I had been extremely busy with data collection and teaching. I actually spent the day before my flight with one of my wonderful research families, rather than packing my oversized suitcase (a constant companion on my trip and affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Yella’).
Having been so deeply involved in my ethnographic study, it panicked me to be jetting off to the other side of the world. What if my three and four year old participants grew a foot or (even worse) started watching something radically different on the TV? In reality, the OIV gave me three months to stand back and consider my thesis from new perspectives and within a number of incredibly rich, supportive environments.
I spent five weeks as a visiting scholar with the Early Childhood Futures Research programme at ACU, Melbourne with my wonderfully supportive host, Associate Professor, Suzy Edwards. During this time, I met regularly with Suzy and final year PhD student, Jo Bird, as well as a number of other academics. The time I spent with Suzy was incredibly useful, allowing me to see more clearly the places where my own research collides with and diverges from traditional socio-cultural approaches. As a result of our many conversations (mostly fuelled by generous quantities of excellent Aussie ‘long blacks’), Jo and I are currently working on a joint publication, focusing on our practical experiences as ethnographers in home (Fiona) and kindergarten (Jo) settings.
Some other highlights of this period included meeting with the CEO and Head of Development and Production at the Australia Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) and presenting research at Improving Children’s Lives: Translating Research for Practice, Policy and Community Conference, the inaugural conference of the new Early Start Centre at the University of Wollongong, Australia (you can read more about the conference in my blogpost). After leaving Melbourne, I spent a week in Sydney, during which time I met for a wonderfully inviting meeting with the Controller of Children’s Television and other members of the team at ABC Kids.
Next, I spent five weeks weeks as a visiting scholar in the School of Early Childhood at QUT, Brisbane with Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow and generous host, Professor Susan Danby. During this time I met regularly with Susan, as well as others including Professor Barbara Comber and Associate Professor Michael Dezuanni. My extremely productive time with Susan challenged and extended some of my methodological thinking, and Susan also helped me to narrow the focus of my thesis. Barbara Comber and Michael Dezuanni both spared time for incredibly constructive discussions about social class. Towards the end of my time in Brisbane, I was also fortunate enough to take part in a workshop delivered by internationally renowned authority on qualitative methodologies, Professor David Silverman.
My trip concluded with a journey across the continent to Western Australia for the five-day Australian Association of Research in Education conference in Fremantle. During this time, I presented both individually and as part of a symposium with Susan Danby, Christina Davidson and Gillian Busch. The conference was an incredible end to the trip, allowing me to catch up with academics from my trip and past conferences (as well as meeting some for the first time!)
And what of my young research participants back home? Each one received a cuddly surprise on my return to the UK – courtesy of Big Yella’s capacious interior!