Family and fieldwork: on longing and commitment in knowledge production

May Ngo is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Her research focuses on the nexus between religion and development, in particular on the case study of Catholic nuns and their work of accompaniment and solidarity with factory workers in Cambodia in the garment export industry. She is interested in examining transnational religious actors whose activities particularly addresses the question of how we respond to the ‘other’ who is a stranger, particularly within the context of global inequalities.

Her other research interests include theology, migration, diaspora and literature. She is also developing her father’s memoirs of his time with the Vietnamese communist army as a novel.

May has a blog at The Violent Bear it Away, and tweets at @mayngo2.

This article was first published in ARI News on March 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission.


Photo by May Ngo

Photo by May Ngo

They were waiting for me at Phnom Penh airport with a handwritten sign with my name on it.

We had never met before as adults, but one of my cousins said he recognised me straight away from the photo my Dad had sent him. My aunt said I looked exactly like my mother.

I stayed with this aunt and her two sons for a month in Cambodia, in a tiny apartment above their mobile phone repair shop on a bustling boulevard in the capital Phnom Penh. Having only two rooms, they vacated the larger room above the shop for me while the three of them slept in the smaller room downstairs.

I had come to Cambodia to do a fieldwork phase at the start of a new research project.

Born in Cambodia but having grown up in Australia, my time there raised the question for me about what it means not only to return to the “motherland” to do research, but to do it with family. Not research specifically on my family, but with them in the sense of their presence being part of the quotidian landscape of my fieldwork, and consequently providing a personal entry into the everyday spaces and rhythms of life in Phnom Penh. Read more of this post

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Lights, cameras, science: Using video to engage broader audiences

Katie Pratt is a science writer and editor with an eye for design, a talent she makes use of as a content developer, communications instructor, and video producer for the Deep Carbon Observatory (deepcarbon.net, @deepcarb on Twitter).

She holds a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry from Brown University and was a 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Community Engagement Fellow.

Katie has organised and participated in field trips around the world, including Costa Rica, Oman, Italy, and the Azores. If you have any questions about the expedition or the film, Katie is happy to be contacted at katie_pratt@uri.edu.


There’s no escaping the fact that having broader impact activities on your CV is a must for any researcher today.

Whether it’s to help you obtain funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), improve your chances of an academic appointment, or get you a job outside of academia altogether, sharing what you do with someone other than your colleagues can help your career.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself writing this post.

After blogging my way through the second half of my PhD, I was hired by the Deep Carbon Observatory’s (DCO) Engagement Team to write stories about their scientists and the work they do. The DCO is an international network of nearly 1000 multi-disciplinary scientists committed to investigating the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon in deep Earth. Founded in 2009, this decade-long program has brought together biologists, physicists, geoscientists, chemists, and many others whose work crosses these disciplinary lines, forging a new, integrative field of deep carbon science.

Five years on, there’s a lot more to my job and, as a professional “jack of all trades”, I found myself in the field last year with a team of talented early career scientists, investigating the biology, petrology, and geochemistry of the Costa Rican volcanic arc.

When we set out on a field expedition to Costa Rica in 2017, called “Biology Meets Subduction,” we really focused on engagement and outreach.

We were lucky. Our funder, the DCO/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was 100% behind the idea, and our budget included money for a professional video crew to join us in the field.

Read more of this post