Once you have passed your fieldwork clearance interview you can begin your fieldwork. You need to agree the details of your fieldwork with your supervisor and bear the following points in mind:
Leave to work away
Before students may depart for their period of fieldwork they must obtain official 'Leave to Work Away'. This must be initiated via your self-service account during the term before departure. Consideration is given to the request, which goes to the Division’s PhD Committee and then to the Degree Committee of the Faculty.
If, as a precondition to being able to complete your field research, you need to spend a substantial period of time learning a difficult and/ or unwritten language, the Board of Graduate Studies may grant you additional time to complete your studies. The maximum length of extra time you may be eligible for is determined with reference to the ESRC’s guidelines on Difficult Language training (Annex C, p.54).
Where language learning takes place away from Cambridge, you will need to apply for Leave to Work Away in the normal way, but you must explicitly state which period of your fieldwork will be devoted primarily to language learning.
Before leaving Cambridge you must provide the Division with full contact details for the period of time you will be away. You must also inform the Division of any changes in these details and keep your CamSIS record up-to-date.
You should ensure that you have sufficient insurance in place before departing for the field. The University offers free travel insurance to students conducting overseas fieldwork. For more information please see the University's advice for those applying for Leave to Work Away.
Financial support for fieldwork is available from a number of sources, both outside and within the University. For further information, please see Funding Fieldwork. Students with Leave to Work Away are also able to apply to the University for assistance in meeting fieldwork costs.
You should keep in regular touch with your supervisor and send regular reports on the progress of your work, and on any problems you encounter. Some supervisors ask for quarterly reports; the precise schedule is worked out on an individual basis.
In any event a report ordinarily contains:
- A diary of the preceding three months’ activity
- A general comment on conditions of work, contacts, findings, expectations etc
- A case study or analysis of any topic on which you can already write in some depth
- A plan of the next three months' work.
First-term fieldwork report
Particularly important is your First-term report to your supervisor. This should be a substantial piece of writing (approx. 3,000 words) submitted to your supervisor three-to-four months after your arrival and is the basis for your supervisor’s confirmation in her/his initial termly CGSRS report that you have begun conducting fieldwork and are beginning to do fruitful research. In this report, you should include systematic discussion of the methods you have been using and are likely to use for the completion of your research. You should initiate discussion with your supervisor regarding any additional training you may require and how these training needs might be met.
During field clearance, you will have to show that you have discussed ethical issues with your supervisor. The School of Human, Social and Political Science is in the process of setting up a Research Ethics Committee to which problematic or difficult circumstances can be addressed. In the meanwhile a supervisor is obliged to consult the Head of Division if any particular problems are envisaged. This is a safeguard for the student as well as for the Division. All field workers are obliged to take into account the ethical conventions that apply in the areas where they work.
Sponsorship and reciprocity
In addition to obtaining any necessary permits and visas, you may need some kind of affiliation to an academic institution in the local region or foreign country in which you are working. You should comply with any formal obligations concerning the deposition of copies of your thesis and other writings and should do your best to contribute to the academic activities of your host institution.
Risks and safety
Before leaving for the field you must have discussed with your supervisor any possible risks and dangers involved in your field research and must be adequately insured. You must make contingency plans should things go wrong, inform the Division, your College and your next of kin of these plans, and ensure that all the parties concerned have the relevant contact details. When you attend the field clearance interview you are required to submit a Fieldwork Risk Assessment Form signed by your supervisor. The form is your guarantee that you have considered the risks involved and put in place the necessary arrangements.
Problems, delays and intermission
Your research should be a full-time commitment and you are expected to complete your PhD within four years of the start of your pre-fieldwork training. If for any reason – illness, injury, family responsibilities, bureaucratic delays, etc – you are temporarily unable to continue with your research, you should apply for intermission through your self-service account.
Intermission cannot be approved retrospectively, so it is important that you let your supervisor and the department know as soon as you experience difficulties.
See also: the film ‘Fieldwork in the Himalayas’ narrated by Professor Alan Macfarlane. This film takes the viewer through the fieldwork endeavour, from leaving one’s own country through to getting back to it after fieldwork.