The morning after the day before IWD2018

It’s the morning after International Women’s Day and I want to take a few moments to reflect. In 2016 and 2017 I spent time preparing blogs celebrating my colleagues and women who led the way in my field. I could be writing about the “Women of the Ventilator” who choose to carve out a space in the House of Commons. I could be writing about my incredible colleagues in archaeology, the Audiolab, History, or commercial archaeology. I could celebrate the achievements of my friends who have done amazing things this year; securing jobs at 30 weeks pregnant, escaping controlling relationships, forcing change in government policy to name a few. I should be celebrating the these things, reflecting on the drive towards social change this year seeing #metoo #timesup the calling out of manels, the gender pay gap.

I come from a privileged background, there is no escaping the fact I’m a white middle class woman with the “right” accent. Not only this I was also raised with a strong belief that I could pursue any career I choose and my gender would not hold me back. This came from both my home life; a mother who worked as a computer programmer, a grandmother who taught maths, GP’s, PhD’s to name a few. But also my school, yes the local comprehensive, which while not offering particularly helpful career advice did not put forward any suggestions that I should or should not follow any particular road.

But this year I’m struggling. For the first time, at age 29, I’m really struggling. For the first time someone has directly suggested that the combination of my age and gender would mean they wouldn’t employ me. For the first time I feel my own agency has been taken away and my body is being policed. Because at 29, recently married, I’m high risk because I *might* want to start a family.

2018 is about believing that what i’m doing is the right thing and that change will happen. I need to renew my energy for the fight, because i’m struggling to see progress at the moment and we need to see those changes. I need to believe that what i’m doing now will lead to a career and I will not be sidelined because of my body or gender.

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Multidisciplinarity

My PhD was conceived to bring together a range of different approaches and methodologies towards the study of late medieval buildings. It started as one of two PhDs myself based in archaeological computing and a second student with a background in medieval history. This intended to bring together digital visualisation techniques with a solid base in evidence sourced through archival research.

I have stated elsewhere how visualisation techniques have been highly critiqued and the methodology developed to work in an archaeological context. There are courses that can be sat on to teach the tools available and how they can be applied in archaeology. However, for Auralization this is not the case, there have been limited applications in archaeology and the technique still requires a deep understanding of acoustical engineering. Working with ISVR has been challenging, it took us a long time to find someone to work with who could teach me how to do acoustical survey and how it can be applied. Engineers work in different ways and focus on different things. In reverse they do not have the theoretical background in archaeology to engage with the results of the work.

Where I am going with this is that using techniques from other disciplines (even just history) can be incredibly challenging. It is not just finding the contacts and someone interested in working with you. It is knowing what techniques can be used and their limitations to apply them correctly. It is making sure you are asking the right questions when learning techniques to ensure you are getting the correct answers from your collaborators not just the easy answer.

However, I have found other aspects of multidisciplinary method more frustrating, particularly when presenting my work. These issues can be as simple as struggling with referencing; archival sources such as illuminated manuscripts are very difficult to reference using the Harvard system. I spoke to Prof. Chris Woolgar from history who said, that in essence, you have to “bodge” it. Not something that works well with bibliographic software. The same is true in engineering working to disciplinary standards, trying to find the best way of getting the information across feels impossible at times.

Presenting the results of sound work is also frustrating, rarely are conference venues setup with good quality audio, if any at all. I find it hard to reconcile myself to discussing the experience of sound without any audio accompaniment in the same way discussing visualisation without images seems ridiculous. This continues when writing my thesis, providing a mechanism for the sounds I am talking about to be heard.

I don’t mean for this blog post to be a rant, I was hoping instead to highlight some of the difficulties in working between disciplines for all multi-disciplinary research in general. As we are being encouraged to use methodologies from other disciplines, I hope the more this is embraced the easier it will get for some of these basic problems.