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Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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3.1 Researcher wellbeing

Pressures on researchers can come from different sources. Read the following case study, which is extracted from the BERA Research Ethics Case Study 2: Researcher Wellbeing and International Fieldwork, to consider some of the pressures a researcher can come under and how they might deal with these.

Case study 5.3 Early career researchers

‘Sonya has been appointed to her first academic role since completing her doctorate: a 12-month post working as a research fellow at a research-intensive university on a comparative study of rural schools across Europe. The project team is large and dispersed, including research fellows based at three other universities. Each has responsibility for fieldwork in a particular country, and Sonya will be visiting schools in Spain. The principal investigator (PI) overseeing Sonya’s work is a professor of sociology who is also overseeing a number of other large projects.’ (Pennacchia, 2019, p. 1)

The PI places Sonya with a local family in rural Spain and puts her in contact with the headteachers of two schools she will visit.

‘Sonya is a native English-speaker but can speak intermediate Spanish; staying with the family is intended to support her language development for future project visits and the presentation of research findings (73). The PI asks Sonya to document her observations and interactions with the local community in order to build up a better understanding of the educational and wider social context of the community.’ (Pennacchia, 2019, p. 2)

As the fieldwork visit progresses a number of issues arise, including difficulties in getting to the schools and meeting the expectations of her hosts to embrace their hospitality and social engagements in the evenings and weekend.

‘Sonya finds fulfilling her PI’s request to compile fieldnotes about the community, which she can only do at the end of each very long day, increasingly burdensome. Sonya does not fully understand the purpose of this part of the study – it is not detailed in the original job description or research bid. However, she notes that it is relevant to another of the PI’s projects, which is about rural community life in Spain.’ (Pennacchia, 2019, p. 3)

Activity 6 Pressures can affect researcher wellbeing

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

After reading Case study 5.3 consider your responses to the following questions.

Think about:

  • What issues might there be for Sonya’s wellbeing from this field work arrangement?
  • What could the principal investigator (PI) have done to prepare Sonya ahead of her first phase of field work?
  • Why might Sonya have worried about asking her PI why she was gathering the additional data on the local community as part of this project?
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In the next section, you will continue to consider wellbeing and other challenges of field work.