Research Journal, Skateboarding

What the hell’s a fellowship?


Unaccustomed to the language of academia I had no idea what a fellowship actually was. I had only been lecturing for eighteen months and while I had sat through meeting after meeting, completely lost in translation, no one had ever actually thought to explain what academic research was and how staff were measured against it. In the world of photography research is practise, and practise pays the bills. Now working in higher education research had become a focal point of my career trajectory. And it seemed that the news of an opportunity to apply fellowship at the Smithsonian brought a series of smiles to peoples faces.

It turns out that a fellowship is an incredible opportunity at any stage of your career. Within a week of returning from the ISAC conference I was downloading paperwork and scripting out responses. I spent the summer revisiting my application, thinking about what I wanted to get out of the fellowship and how I might positively impact the program in return. In September I met with the Dean of Research and presented my application for fine tuning and then off it went for consideration.

Titled ‘The Promise of the Experience,’ my motivation for visiting the Smithsonian was to better understand the innovative promise of the skateboarding experience, examining the relationship skateboarding has with design practises. My initial question, how has the skateboarding industry responded to the needs of its participants based on the ‘Promise of the Experience’? considered the Lemelson Center’s ‘Innoskate’ collection to be an induction to my research. By combining the hands on physical exploration of artefacts and interviews from leading professional researchers, their collection provided an invaluable opportunity for engagement with Innoskate research materials.

Upon hearing I had been selected for the July fellowship program my mind went into overdrive. Not to waste this opportunity, I started to think about how I could build on the relationships I had re-established in LA. Applying for a research innovation grant my intention was to head out to LA in the June, visit with the companies I had reconnected with to film a series of ethnographic interviews with leading industry professionals. With a focus on design and media practises the interviews drew upon first hand knowledge, which was analysed to examine the ecosystem’s that draw together skateboarding, innovation and fashion.

Paperwork complete, finger prints checked, mountains of paperwork later I left in June 2014 to LA first and then Washington DC where I completed a month long fellowship at the Lemelson Center.

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