Planning my initial scoping workshop

Exciting times are afoot this week! In just under two weeks time I will be holding my first data gathering exercise in the form of a group workshop to look at opinions around and experiences of social impact from a researcher point of view.

Designing the workshop

There will be around 10-15 participants, including researchers from across the career spectrum including ECRs, Lecturers, Professors and Heads of Research. I chose to sample participants in this way to make sure there would be a diverse range of experience to draw upon.

When designing the workshop I have been drawing on principles of action research, keeping the focus very much on the co-creation of knowledge and exploring areas which the participants believe to be viable and useful. This will ensure that I am exploring areas of importance to researchers, and not just relying on my own assumptions of what the key issues are.

With this in mind, the workshop will focus around 2 key areas:

  • What does social impact mean to you?
  • Which areas need to be more thoroughly understood?

The participants will be discussing these questions in small groups, then feeding back their responses to the whole group. These feedback sessions will be recorded on dictaphones to allow for transcription and analysis later on.

Understanding the research context

One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that the participants would be able to understand why I want to use their opinions and experiences, and how it fits in with my research as a whole. To help with this, I will be using a couple of visual aids:

I developed this ‘impact tree’ as part of a poster presentation for the ARMA conference last year, to help visualise the scope of my research. Hopefully this will help participants to understand what is in and out of scope in terms of defining social impact.

Final impact tree

I will also be using a scanned in copy of my research schedule to show, in a very informal (and owl-covered!) way, how the information gathered from the workshop will feed into my wider research plan.

Research schedule

Hopefully the workshop will be a useful experience for the participants as well as for me – I will certainly do an update post after it is finished.

A part time PhD and…having a baby!

Hello all, and firstly apologies for the lack of posts recently, things have been somewhat hectic since my last post before Christmas! Me and my partner had a bit of a surprise when we found out I am pregnant, with our baby due on the 19th July! Needless to say, I have been spending some time getting my head around this new development, in particular trying to reconcile it with my current PhD and career plans….. a challenge indeed!

However, never one to shy away from a ridiculous challenge, I am ploughing ahead regardless and hoping to stay more or less on track with my PhD timeline over the next few years.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has/is doing a part-time PhD whilst pregnant or with a small baby, as I am sure sharing tips and having a set of people to talk to who are in a similar boat would really help us all to cope with what will no doubt be a crazy, exciting, but at times difficult journey.

So, please feel free to get in touch via any of these methods:

@megan_beech

m.beech@hud.ac.uk

Or use the comments box below!

Pinning down my methodology – Part 3

Following a very useful, but somewhat intense supervision a few weeks ago, I have been focusing on stepping back from my very practical research design and workshop planning, and instead getting back to methodology basics. This has meant immersing myself in the maze of approaches and trying to pin down the philosophical theories which will be most appropriate to inform my research, following my previous posts on methodology part 1 and part 2.

Now, I’m going to be brave and admit that I have been struggling to get my head around the various concepts which will make up my methodology chapter – and I am sure I’m not the only one. If you, like me, do not have a background in educational research, then I am sure you might also feel a little baffled when confronted with a range of interlocking concepts and theories whose terms are continually developing and being debated.

That said, I feel I have made a mini-breakthrough this week in this area, and wanted to share my steps for getting there in case they might be of help to any fellow PGRs wading through the mire of educational methodology. So here goes.

Start from the beginning

I made the initial mistake of trying to develop my understanding of methodology theories through reading journal articles, as this is my usual go-to platform for learning and exploring. Silly me! Without the basic grounding in terms and debates, the articles did more harm than good, leaving my reeling with confusion and frustrated with myself.

On the advice of my supervisor I attended some EdD classes within my School, and was also able to access all the supporting materials for these classes on our online portal, meaning I could sit at home in my spare time and go through the lecture slides and reading material, which was amazingly useful. If your School runs an EdD class I would highly recommend asking if you can have access to at least the online materials, are they give a great overview of the basics in methodology.

Explore all avenues

Depending on your own personal learning style, it might also be worth exploring other platforms for finding information and learning these core concepts. For me, when I am trying to get my head around something new and complex, focusing only on linear reading does not do the trick – I need to mix it up a little, listen to people speak on the subject from their point of view. Live lectures are great for this, but this can also be supported by online resources – YouTube is brilliant for this! Some useful examples:

Complex research terminology simplified – very basic in the level of understanding it goes into, but perfect for getting your head around the different terms used in educational research methodology.

Graham Gibbs’ series on research methods – based on the social sciences, but covers many areas and concepts which cross over in Education too.

Using a combination of EdD materials, video tutorials and textbooks, I finally feel I have enough information to understanding the basics of what my methodology will look like:

Tadaaaaaaa!

Methodology outline

 

Apologies for the horrendous hand writing 🙂

So my next step, over the Christmas holidays, is to start getting my reasons down for choosing this avenue and finding some good sources to back up my decisions. Fingers crossed I will have a draft outline of this chapter to share with my supervisory team by January, exciting!

As always, comments, questions and feedback very welcome 🙂

Circling the Square – research communication/impact conference

Last week I went to a conference in Nottingham – Circling the Square, and spent a great two days discussing research communication and impact. Before I get into the important stuff, I just want to point out that the University of Nottingham has the most amazing campus! It has lots of modern purpose-built buildings scattered across a gently hilly landscape, interspersed with stretches of grassland, tress and lakes – and we were lucky enough to have some sunshine too which made walking between the venues really pretty and relaxing. It felt more like a holiday resort than a campus!

View from the Orchard Hotel on University of Nottingham campus

View from the Orchard Hotel on University of Nottingham campus

Anyhoo, back to business….

Research governance and the Haldane Principal

Brian Collins (UCL) kicked off talking about research governance and how it is inevitably affected by political whim and change. He pointed out the importance of research needing to stand the test of time and have its own relevance, as well as fulfilling a political goal where appropriate.

Brian also touched on the Haldane Principle: research funding should be decided by researchers, not politicians, but this applies to university, government funded research only. Increasingly, research is also funded by industry, charity and individuals, meaning this principle is not always in play, and elements of personal and industry influence are introduced.

Research communication – mainstream media and online platforms

Following on from this introduction, Brian covered the media as a means to communicate research to ‘the man in the street’. He laid out the underlying tenants of research communication as truth, balance, sales, encouraging debate and commentary – but these do not always work in harmony. The role of mainstream media in research communication is also now affected by universities being pro-active in their own research communications through diverse channels (social media, publications, websites, blogs).

Who communicates research impact?

The increasing trend towards impact evaluation/assessment is leading to an emphasis on the stories behind the research and communicating them effectively. However, many people are finding that researchers are not always the best people to carry out this communication. So far, researchers have been told how to communicate impact, when what we really need to do is ask them about it and make them central to the actions/pathways.

Requirements for the future include more scholarship around research impact/communication, a consideration of the dangers of oversimplification, and the implementation of structures to facilitate research impact/communication.

Think in fields, not departments

In terms of making researchers central to communication/impact plans, Daniele Fanelli (Montreal) discussed how it is key to think and talk in terms of fields rather than disciplines, as multidisciplinary research and changing schools/departments mean fields are more meaningful to researchers. They are also more internationally inclusive and more accurate – everything varies by field.

Using research to inform practice

On day 2, Chris Tyler (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) talked about the growing interest in the interface between science and policy and science advisory roles. He believes we need more academic research into these relationships and pathways to inform the processes they involve – the research needs to be academically rigorous but practical too. It was good to hear Chris standing up and declaring a need for this kind of research, as I am hoping to contribute to filling this current gap with some of my work.

Professionalising research communications/impact support

Chris also made a point of explaining that not all academics should be forced into research communication. He argues that university management needs structures to help select and support the people and processes, to make sure those most suited for them are given opportunities, whilst those not so suited are given support and alternative channels.

Andrew Williams (Cardiff) also expressed a need for more strategic and professional approaches to research communications. Universities exist in an increasingly competitive higher education market, which is only going to become more so – improving communications around the research sector of this will be key to achieving wider goals of student uptake, grants awarded, etc.

Summary

I found all the discussion above both useful in terms of furthering my understanding of the impact debate, and rewarding in its confirmation of my research aims. It has helped me to contextualise the importance of putting the researcher at the centre of my PhD to ensure it is their lived experiences which inform the work. I’m looking forward to feeding all of this into my current research plan, which is taking shape in time for my end of June deadline.

I would love to hear any comments on the areas discussed. 🙂

What does self-care mean to you? Coping with a part time PhD and a full time job

image

The satisfaction of colour coded reading notes 🙂

#PhDchat has been a real lifeline for me since starting my PhD in January this year – as I work full time too, I have to fit my study in as and when, which means being able to have discussions with other PGRs in the evening, from home, is really important. It means I know that every week at 7.30 I can jump on Twitter and use the hash tag to meet other people and share and learn from experiences.

The theme tonight is self-care, so considering how we look after our physical and mental health whilst managing to fit in our studies, work and personal lives – not an easy task for anyone!

Bad habits

On my PhD journey so far I have learnt that it is easy to slip into the habit of berating yourself for not doing enough, not spending every minute you can reading and researching. However, I’ve also learnt that doing this only serves to make me even less productive, more stressed and generally a grumpy sod.

Organisation and scheduling time out

To combat this, I have had to learn to be both more organised and more forgiving of myself than I have been in the past. For me, this means fitting in some reading and note taking every week so I don’t feel panicked, but also making time for some exercise to clear my head and give me energy, and an evening a week when I just rest and get an early night. These may sound like obvious tips, but when your list of tasks to do is as long as a really long elbow, it is easy to slip into stressing and panicking and not making time for that all important headspace.

My week so far

For me this week this has meant getting 2000 words down in literature notes, organising my reading in to lovely colour coded sections (little bit of stationary OCD there!), but also going to an evening exercise class and then tonight, relaxing with a curry and my pyjamas – alongside #PhDchat of course! At the weekend I plan to read a further three papers and add the (hopefully) useful notes to my current ones.

I would love to hear people’s tips on how they balance their self-care with their PhD work, so please feel free to comment or tweet @megan_beech

PhD support – planning, time management and academic confidence

image

Hello everyone!

It has been a while since my last post, but things have been pretty hectic, what with a house move, Easter break and a really busy time at work. But that is how it is when studying part time right? Life gets in the way and you have to learn to manage a balance, whilst not losing your focus.

Incidentally, this is what a lot of the discussion focused on in the part-time PhD support group I attended today. I realised, with ten minutes until it started, that I had booked onto this weeks ago and forgotten, oops. Whilst initially I panicked and worried about all the work I would be delaying to take these three hours out of my day to attend, man am I glad I did?!

The small focus group was really friendly and we spent some valuable time discussing the positive and negative forces at work which can affect our PhD research. Our facilitator, Martyn Walker, encouraged us to create a visual representation of these forces and to take some time thinking about how to address them.

In the image above, I have listed the positive forces first on the left, then covered the negative forces next on the right of the first PhD bubble. Then, I have made some notes in green on how I might tackle these negative forces.

I would love to hear about other peoples experiences/thoughts on this process.

How to share and discuss your research successfully online

This week I had my first peer reviewed article published since starting my PhD – yeay! After doing a little giddy grinning and clapping of hands, I quickly decided I had better practice what I preach and get it out there. So, I spent half an hour uploading it to my University Repository, adding it to ResearchGate and Academia.edu, before writing this blog post and getting it out over Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

It is a short Key Issues piece and focuses on tips for researchers wanting to share their work online. Hopefully this will help to widen my readership and may even result in some collaborations/useful feedback from others working in linked fields. As always, any comments or questions very welcome.

Access the article here