Sigrid Duekilde is an MSc Anthropology, Environment and Development alumni. This story captured in 2020 depicts her reflections and feelings about collaborating with her community partner. If you’re wondering about what its like to collaborate with a CRIS partner, read her story to find out more!
Please can you describe your collaboration, what was it like?
It was really, really good I became quite good friends with my community partner in the end, and really developed an informal relationship with very informal chats back and forth which is great. It meant that I could relax a lot more in the in the collaboration and be a lot more honest about the whole process and about the challenges I met, and also about how I felt. If I felt overwhelmed or had a bit of imposter syndrome then I could be very honest - I didn't have to seem on top of everything all the time and that relieved a lot of stress.
What was it like, being asked for your opinion or perspective?
In this process, I learned that I need to be more confident of what I know. In the beginning, I knew very little, but working on it full time I, very quickly, learned a lot more, but I kept being insecure about whether I actually knew anything. Collaborating with an NGO that is used to bringing out recommendations and brief policy things really, really quickly and quickly forming an opinion, they weren't looking for someone who could just speak about the topic, they were looking for someone who could tell them what they should recommend people to do. I think I could have gotten to that point quicker if I’d been more confident in myself. I'm only now starting to be confident - I'm working on building confidence, that I actually know something, that I actually have some skills!
In this process, I learned that I need to be more confident of what I know. In the beginning, I knew very little, but working on it full time I, very quickly, learned a lot more...
What were some of the challenges?
Well, there was a mismatch between the collaboration and the campaign they wanted to feed into. The campaign they're developing is on sugar beet farming and the project we started out developing wasn't sugar beet. My interviewing was really open and I explained to my community partner that it's not necessarily going to be about sugar because it depends on what the famers speak about. It didn't really end up being about sugar because I found out that farmers who grow combineable crops, they don't really talk individually about the crops - it's more about the whole rotation and what they put in that rotation is less important that the rotation itself. So the organisation kept going on the sugar thing because that's a campaign - that we need to grow less sugar - but that's just not what my project ended up being about. So they gained knowledge into the kind of farmers who grow sugar, but I couldn’t say a whole lot of specifics about sugar beet.
Another challenge was that I knew this had to translate my findings into recommendations so I felt a lot more pressure. Plus, early on in the dissertation another researcher in the department said that I was onto something really interesting with my dissertation and I might be able to publish it - that kind of stuck in my brain as well! But really, the main issue is we weren't clear enough at the start on what product I was going to give the organisation. That was an ongoing process to settle on a product - we always knew it was going to be some kind of condensed, non-theoretical version of the dissertation but then the partner started asking for the full transcripts and there were a few issues there. One, I hadn't transcribed my interviews in full, only the parts I was going to use. Two, they wanted them to build relationships with farmer but I had gone out to the farmers and said yes, I'm affiliated with this NGO, but this does not mean that an NGO is going to come knocking on your door. And now the organisation wanted to go knocking on doors! We had to have a big conversation about that and managing this mission-creep.
Overall, it's been a really, really good collaboration and I'm happy that they were so invested in it, and that they really felt I contributed. It's great to feel like your work has value – that's why I went into this whole thing; to feel like my dissertation was valuable to someone else. It definitely feels that way. I just think we should have set clear boundaries, from the start. Either about the timeline or what specific product they wanted.
It's great to feel like your work has value - that's why I went into this whole thing; to feel like my dissertation was valuable to someone else.
What was the best thing about this collaboration?
The collaboration steered me towards a project that I felt had impact, something that I knew was going to be valuable and therefore it interested me even though it was a topic that would have never interested me in the first place. Plus, even though it was super challenging and I felt very insecure and I was stuck in an expert-yet-know-nothing position, I also had so many people to talk to about it and develop ideas, align everyone’s ideas and also put my spin on it. There were more voices than just my own who developed the project.
What skills did you develop during the collaboration?
I would say I developed stakeholder management skills and seeing things from multiple perspectives, going beyond the academic perspective. When you're doing an essay or dissertation you settle on the direction you want to take, its framing. And then you write that and think that was great, I wrote something really smart within this framing. But you never have that push-back of someone – questioning your framing, what does this or that mean? You have this in a collaboration. It forces you to see it from another perspective, which I think is actually what created the stress! Unlike previous dissertations, now I suddenly had the push-back that forced me to see how others would view my work, instead of just being me and some examiner. I'm still learning to deal with it but I think it's a really good skill to bring with me into the workforce soon. Because it's very egoistic to study, actually! It's only about you, wanting to produce something that gets you a good grade, so you'll have better chances after studying. It's so egoistic and I don't think I would have realised this if I hadn't managed this collaboration. These are skills and an experience I wouldn't have had as I start to look for jobs if I hadn't done a collaborative dissertation.
I developed stakeholder management skills, seeing things from other perspectives and going beyond the academic perspective
What would you say to yourself a year ago and would you do it again?
I made a presentation, two weeks ago to the new cohort in my programme about my dissertation and I wanted to do it to tell them about the opportunity to do a collaborative dissertation. I said that they should be prepared to be flexible and not have a too specific idea about what they want to write about. But if they want to do something that's going to connect to the real world, where they will have to translate the academic stuff into something that works in the real world, then doing a collaborative dissertation and working with CRIS will be a great idea! I would emphasise that it's important not to have a specific idea about what you want to do. If you do, it’s not going to turn out to be that, so be ready to adapt to that quite quickly and be open to doing a lot of different things. It can be difficult for people to know that this is not just going to be your project and your idea – you have to share!
I also felt like I had to say yes to any project that an organisation suggested in case they pulled out and I was put back to square one. But I know what was important to me – it was the experience of a collaboration that was most important rather than the topic. I would say to myself be prepared for the additional work of taking on a topic that you don’t know anything about! But I would definitely do this again. I compared myself to my friends who just did it as a normal dissertation and I think for them it felt much more like a giant essay, while for me, it felt like a project. It didn't feel like a dissertation it felt like a project like something that was connected to the kind of work you're going to end up doing, and not another essay. I think that was really valuable to me. And I think I could see a difference in the kind of stress they felt and the kind of stress, I felt. Where they would just you know the minute they hit submit then it's done then it's over they've done their whole big essay. That through I wasn't through the minute I submitted, but the stresses, I felt weren't about writing a big thing it was about living up to expectations from myself and from the organisation.
It didn't feel like a dissertation it felt like a project that was connected to the kind of work you're going to end up doing and not another essay. I think that was really valuable to me.
How has this helped your future do you think?
I feel very prepared for whatever I'm going to do now. I'm probably going to apply for jobs with NGOs and now I have a window into that working world, now I know a bit of how they think and how they work. Having thought about my dissertation more as a project than as a dissertation already sets me up for that, puts me in that working frame of mind, even though I was still a student. Since working only on my dissertation, when exams were over, I felt more in a frame of mind of doing project work than studying.