Dr Clare Vaughan
Research Associate, Architecture, Planning and Landscape
Please describe your current research interests
My research interests are primarily focused within two key areas; methodologies and gender equality. My PhD is in Sociology and provides a feminist perspective on the gendered issue of homelessness and violence against women within the North East which I finished in 2020.
I’ve also worked as a Research Associate on the HASS institutes funded Methods Hub initiative since 2019! Within this project, I conduct qualitative research (mostly semi-structured interviews) on methodologies and methods ‘journeys’ with staff and students from across the University.
Alongside my research post, I coordinate a local women’s programme (@EastEndWomen) and foodbank. This involves ongoing community consultation, research and evaluation to ensure the programme remains relevant and directly reflects the needs of local women.
Why did you choose this field?
It all started with my Human Geography BA! People such as Helen Jarvis and Peter Hopkins alerted me to the existence of social research and inequality back in 2010 and my interests grew from there. I’ve always had a keen interest in politics, education and inequality and as my feminist consciousness grew and my research skills developed, they all merged and led to my current work!
Can you tell me how you got into research?
I guess my research interests were confounded through my undergraduate dissertation on women’s homelessness. I love talking to people and learning about their life experiences so it seemed like a natural path to follow. The idea that you can get paid to spend time talking to people, building relationships and enacting change is brilliant to me!
What are the main methods you use, how and why?
I’ve used a wide range of qualitative research methods but I tend to return to interviews, participatory visual methods and focus groups. I find life story interviews an excellent way to get to know people and understand where they come from. They can be really intense experiences but they can also elicit incredibly rich data and I always feel privileged that somebody is willing to share their life story with me. There are lots of ethical considerations with life story interviews (as with most research methods!) but are very rewarding when done sensitively and in the right context.
Which methods excite you?
Again I’d have to say interviews! I love that undertaking an interview can challenge your own perspective and open your eyes to issues and ideas you might otherwise never have come across.
Are there any methods you’d like to explore?
I’d love to gain confidence in quantitative research methods and also in GIS mapping. I have the basic skills but it would be great to be able to apply these confidently in future projects! I would also like to explore participatory analysis techniques as I’ve only scratched the surface of these. Finally, I’d like to try using art-informed approaches to research dissemination. I wanted to weave these ideas into my PhD thesis and viva but I didn’t have the confidence to explore these ideas at the time!
Who inspires you methodologically?
I’m also inspired by those who take risks with their research and are candid about their failures and weaknesses in dissemination. We owe it to our students to be honest about the research process and our methodological mishaps!
What, about methods, did you wish your younger self had known?
That safeguarding yourself within research is just as important as safeguarding your participants. In my PhD, for example, I neglected to fully consider the impact of the research on my wellbeing and that had real consequences. This is particularly important when using life story and biographical interviews to investigate sensitive social issues such as violence against women, and I wish I’d put more measures in place from the off.
Have you had any memorable methodological blunders?
The one that stands out is from my first ever research interview during my undergraduate degree. A participant disclosed she had taken drugs before the interview and whilst I wasn’t in any danger due to the location and context of the interview, I definitely said some questionable things under pressure and in the moment! I cringe when I think about those conversations now but its all part of the learning process.
Which upcoming ECR or PgR should we look out for?
Kerry Lowes in Sociology is doing some fantastic work around cultural heritage and education and her candid humour got me through many long thesis-writing days! I can’t wait to read her PhD.
If you could recommend students read just one text on methods (book or journal article), what would it be?
Listen to me: a reflection on practice in qualitative interviewing by Abrahams (2017). It’s the first article I read that really captured the emotions I felt during my PhD data collection and is a must-read for anybody interested in positionality and research ethics.