A few thoughts on research in translation

I hope you’re all well out there and enjoying a productive February. Today I thought I’d offer a bit of an insight into what I’ve been up to recently.

As some of you will already know, I started a PhD in Translation Studies in September 2014 and am currently about halfway through my research journey. While I initially continued working for a few translation clients alongside my research, I’ve more or less phased out my freelance translation work for the time being (aside from a few projects here and there) to prioritise working on my thesis.

So what am I actually writing about? As I’ve mentioned in a few previous blog posts, I’m really interested in the ethics of translation and my research represents an attempt to bring together and develop upon the wide range of conceptions of ethics put forward within Translation Studies. I’m doing this by using ethical theory as an underlying framework allowing me to highlight the key areas of focus to date and to uncover blindspots that represent potential future lines of enquiry.

But enough of that, I don’t really want to go into my research itself here. Instead, I want to discuss translation research more generally as a potential path, offering a frank take on my experience so far and a few thoughts off the top of my head on the kind of attributes that are key to PhD research (in my experience at least), some of which are closely linked to the skills required to be a successful freelance translator.

Quite a few of my readers are current or former translation MA students and I know that (in the UK at least) a number of universities are now taking on PhD students in Translation Studies, so maybe I’ll be able to convince some of you that a PhD is (or, perhaps more likely, isn’t) for you..


 

Passion and focus

An absolute must when contemplating a PhD is a passion for your subject and a clear idea of your specific areas of interest within that field. It’s important to identify a void within your particular area of research that not only has enough scope to fill a thesis but is also focused enough to avoid getting out of hand and spilling beyond the word limit before you’ve even scratched the surface.

The ethics of translation, for instance, has been explored at length without reaching any consensus over what it requires of us and this means there are a number of avenues yet to be explored. The downside to these huge voids is that the subject is so massive that a specific issue can easily slip out of focus. It’s extremely important to keep your research goals in mind and make sure you haven’t gone off track completely, something I have to keep reminding myself!

Discipline and perseverance

A PhD thesis is a big old project, there’s no doubt about that.The idea of being left on your own with a blank canvas and three years to create a polished 80-100,000 word document is a daunting prospect to say the least.

Of course, there is support out there in various forms (supervisors, online groups, other PhD students…) but you still need plenty of self-discipline and motivation to keep those creative juices flowing!

For me, this is one area where freelancing has been pretty useful. Working at home surrounded by all the potential distractions that come with the territory was nothing new to me, making the transition to research a fairly smooth one.

However, when you’re translating, it tends to be with a tight deadline in mind and a paying client who wants their end product ASAP! With a PhD thesis, although there are supervisory meetings and reviews with mini “deadlines” of sorts, I find it helpful to set regular personal targets and goals to break the project down into manageable chunks.

Flexibility and open-mindedness

So far in my research journey, I’ve already been in the rather unfortunate position of having to change my primary or secondary supervisor on three occasions due to retirements and lecturers taking on new roles.

While on the one hand this has allowed me to gain several different perspectives on my work – I’ve received valuable input from a range of vastly-experienced experts who all (unsurprisingly) have a different take on my subject area – it has been undeniably disruptive at times.

Yet the main thing I’ve taken from these changes is how important it is to be flexible in developing a PhD project. Working on a thesis, you have to adapt your intellectual focus based on feedback, your developing interests and your ongoing research.

Linked to this is an openness to criticism, which is again something that I’ve experienced working as a translator. As is the case with translated texts, your ideas will not always be met with universal appreciation and it’s important to use advice and criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve, accepting when you’re heading down a blind alley and when you need to explore new ideas.

Ultimately, it is also important to remember that you are the driving force behind your project and are in a position to choose which path you eventually follow.


 

Eighteen months in, I still love my research topic and feel I am making good progress. It can sometimes be overwhelming working in such a huge, complex area and there have certainly been setbacks along the way (supervisor changes, paper rejections, ideas that simply don’t work out etc.).

However, even though I still have lots of ground to cover in the thesis and am fully expecting the next 18 months to be extremely challenging, it’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed studying translation in the past and think a PhD might be for you, feel free to send me an email for any further advice and I’ll try my best to help out! 🙂

2 thoughts on “A few thoughts on research in translation

  1. Luke says:

    Nice to peel back the curtain a little and see what’s behind a PhD in Translation Studies. I’m curious to hear other thesis subjects now.

    Your own sounds fascinating and no doubt fertile ground for no end of ideas and discussions.

    I wonder if you’ve played with Markdown and the Linux software ‘Pandoc’ before? You can write masses of text/a thesis and have it produce a LaTeX-based PDF, a Word file and a slide show in seconds. All with consistent formatting and none of the line-break hunting required in Word. It lets you focus on the content, essentially.

    I only mention it now because of its apparent wide use in academia, or at least of LaTeX, to produce consistently formatted documents.

    Best of luck for the rest!

    • jaltranslation says:

      Thanks very much Luke! No, I’d never actually heard of Pandoc before now. I’ve just had a quick read up on it and it sounds very interesting. Research in the humanities seems to be fairly hesitant to embrace new technology (or any technology at all) if my experience is anything to go by…

      My university do run some ‘skill workshops’ (or something like that) for various programs that are supposedly useful for researchers, I’ll have to check the list again and see which ones they cover… So far I’ve experimented with RefWorks and NVivo in an attempt to be a bit more efficient but nothing has stuck. Thanks again and enjoy the rest of your week!

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