Upgrade Review | Doctorate

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.

Image courtesy of http://www.robertdawsongallery.co.uk

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 Wasn’t my use of Bourdieu’s field and habitus outdated?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.

24 thoughts on “Upgrade Review | Doctorate

  1. Wow! That review was very intense, and made different by the quarantine regs as well. You handle the challenging criticisms with the perfect attitude (of course!).
    Really appreciate getting this insight into the experience (and incredible amount of work, and, assumably, stress!) involved in obtaining a doctorate degree. Such a meaningful field of study, you’ve chosen, too. Thanks so much, Matthew, for sharing it here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations, Matthew. Sounds like you have a terrific handle on your subject and a good idea of where to move your studies for the next stage. As Nadine says, its an interesting and worthwhile area of study and Id be very interested to learn how and if the Scottish authorities treat their traveller communities differently from other parts of the UK. Also interested to know why traveller communities are so often and so widely vilified – is it simply long held prejudice against the ‘other’, a distrust of those who are rootless? Fascinating field of study.
    Well done again and it sounds like the University dealt with the current restrictions with care and thoroughness. Kudos to them

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Lynn. As with so many phenomena, it is an ‘othering’ that has many roots. I would argue that it is predicated upon seeing their mobility as a threat. We (myself included) are used to a sedentary way of life, of living via defined geographical zones, and any threat to this system is seen as deviant and inherently criminal. Lots of work to be done of course, but I hope to play my small part in changing this perception. Thanks for your support as always.


      1. It is fascinating, disturbing, but this idea of the ‘other’ had existed for centuries. I’m thinking of the Greek term barbaroi, the term they used for non Greeks. People have always had this kind of thinking. Sad, aren’t we?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this stressful but enlightening phase of your studies. I was most impressed to learn about the scholarly diligence of all parties on both sides of the process—your examiners and you.
    And, like the previous commenters, I appreciate that you’ve undertaken such a valuable area of study. I hope your final thesis will be published so that we can read it.
    Congratulations on passing this significant milestone with unanimous approval!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations, Matthew! Your online assessment must have been nerve-wracking, especially not being able to see the ‘whites of their eyes’. This sounds like a fascinating area of research, particularly so when many people have preconceived ideas about ‘different’ groups such as the one you are studying.
    I was once asked to carry out an insurance assessment of a ‘permanent’ site which the local authority, one in Merseyside, provided for travellers. The people whom I met at the site were gracious and charming, despite me being ‘from the insurance’. They were ever so apologetic when one of their corgis nipped the back of my leg as I was leaving!
    Best of luck with your future research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Chris. It was certainly a bit surreal presenting to my own laptop, particularly as the convener’s internet connection wouldn’t support six people video conferencing at once, forcing us to go for audio only! I love the corgi anecdote. Was the provision of insurance seen as inherently riskier for permanent GRT sites by the company you worked for? In my research I’ve found a lot of stakeholders (NHS, police etc.) seem to find a ‘site address’ inherently problematic for their systems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Since the site was part of the Local Authority’s large portfolio and it was their Liability risk with which we were concerned, it was not so much of a problem. A small site in a semi-rural area, it was pretty well controlled. The underwriters would not have insured the property or the vehicles of the community, however.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was lucky, they adopted me into their family years ago. The Gypsies are alive and well in the USA. The have cities they live in and are skill at making income. I enjoyed your words and thoughts. Coronaviras world, make a Gypsy life, a harder one.

    Liked by 1 person

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