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Data collection on the livelihood aspirations of young agricultural science graduates 

Ru Hui Foong writes about her recent trip to Cambodia where she was able to further develop her understanding of the agricultural sector in Cambodia, engage with multi-disciplinary researchers and hone her cross-cultural communication skills whilst undertaking the data collection for her honours research project.

Reflecting on my time in Battambang and Pailin, my 2.5 weeks of fieldwork in July has been a transformative experience for me as an early career researcher. After spending the earlier part of 2023 refining the design for my research project that I am undertaking as part of my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) on the livelihood aspirations of young agricultural science graduates in Northwest Cambodia, it was nerve-wrecking and exciting to actualise my plans and carry out my in-person data collection.

I was fortunate enough to be able to line my fieldwork dates up with the joint project workshop which took place at the National University of Battambang between July 3-7, 2023. Attending this workshop was a great way for me to develop a better understanding about the activities making up the Next generation agricultural extension: social relations for practice change project as well as the Uptake of agricultural technologies and best practices amongst farmers in Battambang and Pailin provinces. This allowed me to further my understanding of the agriculture sector in Northwest Cambodia and its challenges and opportunities, providing me greater background knowledge that would come in useful in contextualising my research. It was also highly interesting hearing from multi-disciplinary researchers how they have executed their research and translated their findings into practice and impact through collaborations with various partners. This has given me plenty to think about in terms of the strengths and limitations of my Human Geography research project and how it might fit in alongside other emerging research agendas in other disciplines.

Together with the Australian and Cambodian research team at the National University of Battambang for the project workshops

During the workshop period, I also began contacting and scheduling interviews with my participants. Upon the conclusion on the workshop, it was full steam ahead for conducting my 12 interviews. While I have conducted a few online interviews prior to arriving in Battambang, face-to-face interviews were quite a different ballgame. I am extremely grateful for the amazing research assistant team who supported me in various ways along the way – from introducing me to the cultural norms, recommending appropriate interview venues and letting me crash their office when I needed a space to work.

At the Battambang office with Saroeut, Pherom, Chariya and Sophea

Their existing relationships with the participants whom they referred to my project also went a long way in helping me build the rapport and trust that allowed for conducive interviews. With this fieldwork trip being my first time in Cambodia, there was a lot for me to learn in terms of effective cross-cultural communication. This was particularly important given that my data collection method is qualitative interviews, and I am glad that I was able to hone this invaluable skill through my fieldwork. A big thank you to all my participants who have contributed their valuable time to share their experiences and stories with me – អរគុណ​ច្រើន. 

Pailin landscape
Downtime with Chariya, Lita and Sao

Overall, my fieldwork in Battambang and Pailin has been an incredibly enriching experience. I am excited to have returned to chilly Melbourne with an interesting dataset. Some themes that stood out to me from the interview responses were the prevalence of short-term project-based opportunities with international organisations in the agriculture sector, the influence of social networks on career trajectories and the interdependencies between gendered family formation goals and livelihood aspirations. I look forward to delving deeper into my analysis and delivering my thesis results presentation later in the year!