To progress to SQVS level 12, or doctoral level, Professional Doctorate students must submit and defend a literature review on their area of expertise. Recently, it was my turn to present on how the criminal justice system can adapt to better serve the needs of Scottish Gypsy Travellers.
As it has with so many lives and in so many more important endeavours, Covid-19 proved adept at disruption and chaos. The University of Dundee stopped all face-to-face teaching days before my presentation, and as such a mobile solution had to be found. Some of the examining professors suggested Blackboard Collaborate and a session was set up.
It was an odd examination experience to say the least. The panel convened remotely before me, inviting me into the meeting when they were ready. I then presented on my findings on what I had read during the last eighteen months for twenty minutes before each of the panel took turns to ask me questions. Next, I was asked to leave the chat whilst the panel deliberated, being asked back in only when they were ready to deliver their assessment on whether I was ready to continue my research.
One thing I took away from the upgrade review was the diligence with which the panel read my literature review. Far from having scan-read the document on the night before, it was obvious that each had made detailed notes on the text. This was of great benefit to me. After giving my presentation, the convener gave the floor to each examiner on turn. I was asked difficult questions. Why did I limit the reading to after the 1968 Caravan Sites Act? Wasn’t this somewhat of an arbitrary line given the legislation only affected England and Wales? Wasn’t my use of Bourdieu’s field and habitus outdated? Shouldn’t I have included more research on semi-nomadic groups in England and Wales if I was planning on contrasting their treatment with that of Scottish Gypsy Travellers? I won’t lie – some of the lines of questioning had me sweating a bit and scrambling for answers! They did however serve an excellent purpose. They made me reassess the strength and direction of my literature review – the basis for any future research projects. It was made clear to me that my approach to research must be guided by the gaps in research that I had uncovered, and that these gaps should in turn have been identified via a methodical, replicable, and accountable review of the existing literature. My upgrade review made me realise the importance of impeccable research ethics and skills; they are the basis upon which accountable work is done.
After I was told (to my great relief!) that the panel had unanimously approved my moving forward into the research stage of the doctorate, I was asked what projects I had in mind. Although the nature of my research questions lend themselves to an approach focussed upon qualitative research with Scottish Gypsy Travellers themselves, there remains a requirement to examine policing practice pertaining to GRT groups on a wider scale, given the commonalities present across UK police forces. Over the next year, I hope to get a better picture of how GRT groups interact with local authorities and police forces across the UK. I hope to understand what innovations have helped GRT groups combat the inequalities that they currently experience, and which assist in respecting their vibrant cultures. I will be developing this initial project in the coming weeks.
*Thanks for reading, folks. The images above are amongst a collection of historical pictures of Scottish Gypsy Travellers and are available at www.robertdawsongallery.co.uk.*
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order.