A Reflection on the Migration and Transformations PhD Research Methods Summer School: 3rd – 7th September 2018

By September 10, 2018Blog

By Maev McDaid and Edanur Yazici


For the last week, young scholars from English and Polish Universities came together in Warsaw with established academics to undertake a programme of masterclasses, walking tours, museum visits and cultural trips. This blog covers the day-by-day of the course and is written by two students who attended from the University of Sheffield after discussions with the whole group in the reflection session.

The week began on Monday morning with a welcome from Professor Louise Ryan and Professor Pawel Kaczmarczyk in the educational centre at the Polin Museum of Polish Jews. The introduction was followed by all PhD students and early-career academics introducing themselves and their research. The shared theme on ‘Migration and Transformations’ showed that, across the Universities represented, it was obvious there was an overlap in research interests and methods. Having the opportunity to meet with researchers at different institutions, and sharing the various approaches to tackle some of the issues in society, was beneficial to framing our own research and learning what other methods are being used to tackle Migration research. The afternoon comprised of a 3 hour tour of the Polin Museum, where the permanent exhibition is ‘1000 years of Jewish history in Poland’ – with a guide who took us through the history. Everyone agreed that this was an important and moving exhibition, that gave us a lot to reflect on independently and with each other.

On Tuesday we were grateful to have a lecture from Dr Mariusz Jastrab and Ms Justyna Koszarska-Szulc. They took us through the significance of March 1968 in Jewish and Polish-Jewish relations, and ended with an open discussion of more contemporary political relations in Poland today. Many of us found learning about this aspect of Polish history and collective memory particularly interesting, especially as so much of it was focused on living memory and oral history. The afternoon gave us our first Masterclass engaging with ‘Qualitative Data Analysis and Coding’, with Louise and Anita Brzozowska taking us through the highs and lows of analysis, and giving us the opportunity to develop a coding frame and to practice coding data. An evening walking tour with Mariusz and Jan Weinsberg, a Polish-Jewish translator with stories of life in Poland and abroad over the course of his life defined by immigration. You can listen to Jan’s testimony here.

Wednesday began at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, where a warm welcome from Professor Izabela Grabowska started off a busy and engaging day of masterclasses.  Professor Michal Bilewicz and Dr Aneta Piekut gave a session on Survey Design and Questionnaires as a Measurement Tool where we covered the dos and don’ts and technical advice on using surveys moving forward with our research. After lunch, Dr Paula Pustulka oversaw an interactive session on using Infographics for Data Visualization. Although, for the technophobes among us this seemed a daunting task, we were able to get stuck in and quickly learn the practical skills of such tools, against the theoretical backdrop,  justification and application of its uses. After this class we enjoyed a session on Modelling and Forecasting of Demographic and Migratory Phenomena with Dr Marta Anacka. It was here were we learned about the challenges and benefits to using this method, and using the theory to determine if reliable population projection could be made. In doing so, we were able to reflect on how forecasting methods are applied and represented in popular discourses – enabling us to draw together quantitative and qualitative analyses. In the evening we learned about the history of old Warsaw, exploring pre-gentrified Warsaw and the invention of the electric car! This was followed by a delicious dinner and a tour of the nearby Neon factory, with everyone agreeing that this was a great thing to do. The Neon factory was a fantastic opportunity to explore Warsaw’s social and architectural history through signage – an approach that none of us expected to be so insightful!

For the penultimate day, we had all looked forward to the Ethnographic field trip to Wolka and it did not disappoint. A full day ‘in the field’ working in teams to explore the rhythms of everyday life in this area proved popular among classmates. This equipped us with the knowledge for understanding the rationale behind this type of research, as well as the practical experience of using these methods for multi-sited ethnography. Being able to immerse ourselves in all of the sensory dynamics of ethnographic research from sights and sounds to tastes and smells really challenged us to think about applying innovative methods in our work – we even spent time discussing the gendered and racialised politics of toilet door graffiti! The Wolka district was a fascinating lens through which to consider global trade, migration and spatial and political exclusions. Being at the heart of the pan-European trading network for domestic products and clothing was an experience that drew together the complex social and political dynamics involved in consumption and the impact that this has on people’s migration trajectories and everyday lives.

Our final day saw us reflect on a busy week and look forward to collaborations and support from colleagues at different institutions moving forward. As we left Warsaw, the students from English institutions all agreed that we were very lucky to take part in such a diverse programme of events, bringing together scholars from across the world under the banner of migration research. The dual presentation of events from both the English and Polish universities’ perspectives encouraged transnational and interdisciplinary learning. We were made to feel very welcome by our Polish colleagues and given plenty of time to engage with the political and cultural facets of Warsaw, as well as engaging with a busy academic programme. Our understanding of Poland and Polish society has increased ten-fold and we are all hoping to come back in the future. For many of us, it was our first visit to Poland and it was an extremely valuable opportunity for us to gain first-hand insight into contemporary Polish culture, politics and society.  Having been following changes in Polish politics in the news, it was an eye opening experience to be able to hear about these changes and discuss them with our Polish colleagues first hand. In the meantime, we look forward to inviting and hosting many of our Polish colleagues to Sheffield for both the PhD Day and IMISCOE Spring Conference ‘Transforming Mobility and Immobility: Brexit and Beyond’ on the 28-19th March 2019. The call for papers can be accessed here and if you wish to submit a proposal to speak then please observe the deadline of 10th October.

A final note from us to say thank you to the all the organisers across institutions and to the Noble Foundation’s Programme on Modern Poland for funding this Summer School. We also wish Laura Foley – one of the key organisers stepping down from her role as Migration Research Administrator to write up her PhD – all the best with her work!


Follow @SheffieldMRG or email migrationresearch@sheffield.ac.uk and ask to join our mailing list  for updates of our events.