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Get in the canoe

  1. Find the canoe

  2. Get in it

  3. Let people guide you down the river as it flows

  4. Observe what you find

  5. Write about it

This is the advice I was given for fieldwork before I left for Benin last month by favourite professor from undergrad, Dr. John Grayzel. He introduced me to the subject of international development as an undergraduate.

His lectures were stories. As a former Director at USAID and a student of Margaret Meade at Columbia University he had tons of stories. He told us metaphors involving half-built-bridges in Bostwana; analogies of Persian rugs. He explained development as a process of change. So it was only natural that I returned to him for some advice before I set out for fieldwork.

The conversation really should have been recorded for a podcast. It gave me great comfort to speak with him about my goals for the research and my anxiety about ‘going at it alone’. I find that so many of my PhD classmates are equally in the dark when starting out fieldwork – probably because so much of it is a discovery-by-doing. Which is exactly what Dr. Grayzel reminded me:

Stop reading.

I had spent the summer in a pile of papers, trying to figure out the best methodology to solve a problem I had not encountered. It was like looking for a bandage before a wound, trying to measure its size or shape before anything happened.

Instead, Grayzel encouraged me to go with the just open my eyes and really see what was happening around me. Some may classify this as grounded theory.

He told me to abandon my stack of readings.

To ask:


He instructed me to post this question on my mirror – as a reminder that words don't teach, experience does. To get out of my head and into the world.

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