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The Art of Crafting Dissertation Research Abroad

E. Christian Wells and Michelle Woodward

Conducting dissertation research abroad has the potential to be an exciting and rewarding experience. In addition to the joys of doing fieldwork in foreign countries, such research requires a great deal of planning and paperwork. While by no means an exhaustive list, this article offers a few suggestions to consider when crafting research beyond the borders of the United States. Above all, remember that you are a guest of the host country and the community in which you work. The opportunity to conduct your research there is a great privilege, and as such, you should treat foreign colleagues and workers with respect, making it a point to speak their language and include them in discourse about your research plans and results.

Before You Begin

Obtain the necessary passports, visas, proposals, and permits. In most foreign countries, you will need a current passport and visa. The application for a passport can take several months, as can a work visa, so apply well in advance of your planned departure. To learn more about passport and visa requirements, visit Also, you will most likely need an official permit to conduct your research. Often, you will be required to submit a formal proposal and budget (in the language of the host country) to the department of culture to obtain your permit. This can take many months to be reviewed and approved. It is helpful to review an example of an approved proposal to use as a guideline. If you are planning to remove arti-facts or samples from the country for analysis, it is certain that you will need to make prior arrangements with the proper authorities.

Contact the appropriate embassy or consulate. Most countries have embassies or consulates located in the United States. Check with the nearest embassy of the country in which you wish to conduct research to learn about regulations, restrictions, and other important political and health-related information specific to your research area. It also is a good idea to check with the state department to see if any travel advisories are in effect for the country in which you will be working. For more information, visit

Conduct a pre-research visit to the site. A visit to the site before you construct a research plan can be crucial to discovering the answers to questions such as, "Where can I dig without ending up in the middle of dense vegetation or a looter's pit?", "Which privately-owned lands will I have access to for survey?", and "What times of the year will the weather permit me to conduct outdoor research?" These, and many other questions that can be answered with a simple pre-work visit to the research area, will save time, resources, and a good deal of frustration.

While in the Field

Build a rapport with local community members and leaders. Meeting with community members and leaders to discuss your research plans before you begin work is an important step to create a productive working relationship between you and your new neighbors. In addition, you may find that your workers have decades of experience excavating or conducting survey with other archaeological research projects, and as such, can share with you important information about past findings that did not necessarily make their way into the published literature.

Consider the social and financial impacts of your presence on the host community. If you are employing a number of local workers to assist in your field research, make an effort - through discussions with community leaders, archaeologists working near-by, or the government institution that oversees your workto find out what the local standards are for paying workers, providing health care. A positive work experience for your workers will ensure that they return to work with you again in the future.

Arrange for the responsible storage and curation of artifacts and data. Most government institutions that permit you to conduct research in their countries require that collected artifacts, as well as data from mapping, excavation, etc., be curated at a central repository or museum. This generally implies some cost to you, so you should be informed of that expense before undertaking the fieldwork. Often, institutions will ask for a percentage contribution (usually 5­10 percent) of your total research budget.

When Your Work is Done

"It is both a professional responsibility and general courtesy to your host country and community to inform them about the results of your research . . . by offering to talk to classes in local schools, inviting community leaders to visit your site, presenting papers at local symposia, and publishing papers in local journals."

Submit preliminary and final reports promptly. It is important to submit a preliminary report of your findings to the host govern-ment before you leave the country and a final report as determined by the schedule established in the permit. Prompt submission of your findings will ensure your opportunity, as well as that of your colleagues, to conduct future work in that research area.

Inform the host community about your research results. It is both a professional responsibility and general courtesy to your host country and community to inform them about the results of your research. This can be done by offering to talk to classes in local schools, inviting community leaders to visit your site, presenting papers at local symposia, and publishing papers in local journals.

Share your data and results with colleagues and the general public in a timely manner. One gauge of the ultimate success of your research endeavor is your ability to communicate effectively with your colleagues and the public at large. It is an important responsibility to share your knowledge with others so that we all may benefit from the results of your work. ·

E. Christian Wells is a doctoral student at Arizona State University. Since 1992 he has conducted archaeological research in the United States, Italy, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. He currently works at the site of Cacaulapa in northwestern Honduras. Michelle Woodward is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Since 1990 she has conducted archaeological research in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. She currently works at the site of Joya del Ceren in western El Salvador.

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