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Difficult Settings: Preparing for Fieldwork

Difficult Settings: Preparing for Fieldwork

Passionate scholars from the Faculty of Social Sciences of VU are organising a summer school to share their knowledge of the planning of fieldwork

Course description

Most qualitative research methods courses offer theoretical framework, research planning, data collection and analysis in one course within one semester. For Master and PhD students in earlier stages who will prepare and conduct qualitative fieldwork, many opportunities, challenges and potential risks are not discussed well enough. It is hardly mentioned and discussed in training and academic conferences so far. This relates for instance to finding and including respondents in your sample, but also dealing with time and delay, and even violence and other forms of sexual harassment, which are all issues that until now are hardly discussed in preparations. The most careful planning can mean little once the researcher encounters the real world.

In this course, by openly discussing specific issues, students have the liberty to make a choice in relation to each different situation. This course can bring to light the gap between textbook theory and methods in practice. Due to the short period of time for this course, we will focus on two qualitative research methods: in-depth interview and field observation through scenario-based training in each session. Each topic includes one specific scenario under provided contexts. In each scenario there are some awkward and worrisome situations, even sometimes risks, which students will have to cope with. Additionally, it seems that the global pandemic might stay with us for a while. So, this course will take this opportunity to also discuss how to deal with its impact on the data collection period, and therefore, it will also be a topic included in the session.

Continue reading below for course topics, the syllabus and more.

About this course

Course level

  • Master / Advanced / PhD

Course coordinator

  • Fiona Shan


  • 3 ECTS

Contact hours

  • 45


  • English

Tuition fee

  • €700 - €1250

Additional course information

  • Learning Objectives

    By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

    • know how to cope with unexpected problems under difficult conditions.
    • be able to reflect on your positionality, including your interactions with participants and boundaries, as a researcher in the field.
    • understand how to better protect yourself as a researcher and your participants from potential negative effects.
    • learn how to be flexible in your recruitment strategies due to the limited contact with people in the field during the global pandemic.
  • Forms of tuition and assessment

    Forms of tuition

    This course will be taught through lectures, workshops, guest lectures, practical sessions and an additional 15 hours of self-study


    The final mark of the course will be based on assignments 

  • About the course coordinator

    Haiyue Shan (Fiona) is a PhD (c) in Sociology at the Vrije University Amsterdam. Her current PhD research aims to explore Chinese migrant mental health in the Netherlands, maternity care, postpartum depression, and ethnic minority's accessibility to health care. Her previous research experiences focused on suicide research and prevention and suicide notes analysis among youth in Hong Kong.

  • Course topics and training

    The list of themes and topics:

    • Safety, vulnerability and risks
    • Finance resources and opportunities to support your research
    • Pros and cons in relation to research with marginalized populations
    • Moral case deliberation to ethical dilemmas
    • Building close relationship and engaged scholars
    • Dealing with people in the conflict zones and intense emotional settings
    • The distrust among participants
    • Identifying and creating support networks
    • Innovative ways to keep long-term relations with participants (digitally) in for the longitudinal case


    • Case study
    • Moral case deliberation
    • Self-reflection
    • Field observation exercise
    • A micro fieldwork exercise
  • Course Syllabus

    Here you can download the provisional course syllabus with information about the course schedule, the reading list, assignments and grading and more. 

    *Please note that this document will be updated closer to the start date.

Team VU Amsterdam Summer School

We are here to help!

Skype: by appointment via


  • Bianca
  • Programme Coordinator
  • Celia
  • Summer and Winter School Officer
Celia VU Amsterdam Summer & Winter School
  • Helena
  • Summer and Winter School Officer
Helena VU Amsterdam Summer and Winter School