My first citation – a boost for publication motivation

General excuses

Hello all, and first an apology for leaving it a whole month between posts. The last 4 weeks have been super hectic, with my day job being very intense after taking on a new area of work and trying to put more time into my PhD research. However, I have some research days scheduled between now and Christmas which will help, and am planning to aim for a blog post each week to keep me on track.

Hurrah for my first citation!

Some great news today – I have received my first ever official citation! As part of #impactchallenge throughout November from @ImpactStory I decided to update my Google Scholar, ResearchGate and Academia.edu profiles today, and noticed that, where there has always been a big fat zero before on my citation count, there is now a lovely shiny number 1!

The citation comes from an article by Steven Ovadia called ResearchGate and Academia.edu: Academic Social Networks published in Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian. I am particularly happy about this as I do a lot of work with the Computing and Library Services department at Huddersfield and love working with the librarian community, so it means a lot to be cited by one of their own. 🙂

The joy of reaching your target audience

Although the citation would be regarded by many as a small nod at a relatively short article, I’m sure many researchers out there will remember the excitement they felt at finally seeing the publishing process come full circle on a piece of their work. It is rewarding to know that your work is being read by people, and particularly lovely to see that people within a field you have a keen interest in are actually finding your work of some use. On that note, a big shout out to @graham_stone for supporting me in submitting the article in the first place, you have been a great help.

Seeing this has certainly buoyed me up and inspired me to hopefully publish more work in the near future. Watch this space!

Bite size chunks – managing your writing

On my last post I had just handed in my extended research proposal to the School board and ethics committee, and was nervously awaiting the results.

Proposal accepted!

Thankfully, I don’t have to go back to square one just yet, as they were happy with my work so far and even gave me some lovely feedback about the interesting topic and reading I had done so far. Woohoo!!

Anyhow, following this I struggled to figure out where to go next, and kept coming back to my proposal document and bleakly staring at the words, panicking that I couldn’t figure out where to slot in my next reading notes or start a brand new section. Obviously, this is a totally fruitless way to waste vast swathes of time, and my productivity hit a bit of a lull.

Group inspiration

Luckily, yesterday I was on a half day part-time PhD support group organised for the University, and it has really given me the kick-start I needed. I would definitely advise getting involved in these kind of groups and networks as early as possible, as they are a great way to collaborate with other new researchers and try out ideas with each other.

Be gone writer’s block!

As I was explaining the rut I was in and my frustration, another PhD student and lecturer, Jean, told me about the way she writes and how it works for her, and it was like a switch had been flicked in my head and banished my writers block! Jean explained that, to make things more manageable, very early on in her writing she made separate documents for each section of her thesis-to-be. Then, when reading through her articles and book chapters, she would make a note of which section they were relevant to, and add a few notes to that document, and so on.

Now, I know it sounds obvious when written down like this, but when you are at home on your own staring at a document for what feels like the billionth time, logical answers aren’t always forthcoming, so it really was a breakthrough to talk this through with Jean.

Choosing your sections

Feeling super motivated, I scooted home after work and got straight on with separating out my sections and updating them with some recent reading. For now, my structure looks like this:

  • Introduction (covers a summary, research questions and aims and timeline)
  • Context (focuses on recent changes in funding and research landscapes, including assessment)
  • Social impact – definitions
  • Social impact – assessing, how and why
  • Methodology
  • Research Design

All in all it took me a couple of hours to organise everything and update each section with a few new pieces – what a sense of satisfaction!

Big thanks to Jean for sharing this method 🙂

Submitting your Proposal/Plan…or yeay!

So this week I submitted my formal Research Proposal and Plan to my university PGR and ethics committee. Those of you who are further down the road in their PhD traipse will know how satisfying this is! Yeay!

Being someone who can procrastinate until the cows come home, and then until they have tea, get tucked up in straw, dreams some cow dreams….it was a real relief to feel like I finally have something down on paper. After months of reading, faffing, stressing and some (ahem LOTS) of reorganising my writing space, I finally have around 5000 words of fairly succinct explanation around my PhD topic and approach. And yes, I have worked out how much of my final thesis that equates to. And then immediately wished I hadn’t.

Now that this first hurdle is over, I really need to try hard to keep the momentum going and not sit back for a few weeks waiting for the comments to come in. So, I have devised a little plan of action for the next few weeks:

  • Plough through the ever-growing pile of articles bordering my writing space – I aim to read 2 articles a week, make notations and try and add a summary into my research notes.
  • Sign up to the EdD classes which start at my uni in Sep – these discussion sessions focus on methodologies and theories, which are both areas I need to focus on more.
  • Do some more blog posts! I think blogging about my theory and methodology reading might help me to negotiate some barriers.

Anyone else at a similar stage to me and have any tips/questions around where to go next and how to re-focus?

Pinning down my methodology: Part 2

The Kawa River Model

Having covered the basics of my methodology in Part 1, I now want to talk a bit about research design. Bear with me though, I am still very much on a learning curve with this stuff, so all the ideas are under development.

Why qualitative?

So, as I discussed in the previous post, I will be using a qualitative approach to do my data gathering, as I understand this will allow me to build up the most comprehensive picture of social impact definition, understanding and practices within the wider context of the participant subject areas and experiences.

Interviews and visual representation

I plan to carry out semi-structured depth interviews as well as asking participants to create visual representations of research journeys and social impact interpretations. I am choosing to use the depth interview rather than the structured interview to allow the participants to bring experiences, opinions and topics into the interview which they feel are key to the impact debate, rather than dictating the areas to be covered. This lets the participant be in charge of the conversation direction, hopefully leading to a much more relevant and contextualized set of data.

How to select the participants?

I did think about holding an initial workshop open to all researchers which would be used to identify appropriate researchers who would take part in the longer term case studies. However, I binned that idea after realising that it is too dependent on unpredictable nature of open invites: How many times have you been to/run a training session just to find that half the people don’t turn up? As my research is very dependent on covering a range of disciplines, it seems much more sensible to make a carefully planned selection than to leave it all to chance.

Which subject areas to cover

To make this selection, I will be using my existing contacts and project experiences to identify one researcher from the four broad discipline groupings across the University;

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)
  • Arts
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences

These 4 researchers will be invited to take part in a long term case study over 12 months to explore their understanding and experiences of impact. The case study research will consist of a combination of in depth interviews which will then be transcribed, and visual methods including cognitive mapping and journey representation, possibly in a form similar to the KAWA model.

Making space for the story

I have always been interested in how people tell a story through their research in order to translate it into real-world scenarious and communities. By using the diverse qualitative methods above I hope to build a detailed picture of researcher experiences and give them space to explore their experiences of how impact is generated in their field of work.

Pinning down my methodology: part 1

Following a couple of recent conferences in Nottingham and Blackpool, I needed to spend some time thinking about how the discussions I had at these events could improve and feed into my research.

In particular, they got me thinking about my least favorite subject recently….methodology. With my lack of any kind of experience in the social sciences prior to starting my PhD, my understanding of the philosophies surrounding different methodologies is pretty sketchy. I have been trying to remedy this with a stack of very intense, slightly dull looking books, but I’m not gonna lie; it is definitely still a work in progress.

I thought a couple of blog posts on where I am up to might help to straighten my thoughts out and maybe connect with some people who have been exploring their own methodology issues. In this first post I just want to explain the basics of my methodology in relation to my research aims and questions, then the following posts will deal with the underpinning philosophy and research design.

So, the basic outline of my PhD research is as follows:

Working title

How do researchers experience, view and bring about social impact through their work?

Aims

  • To carry out in-depth analysis of the impact debate, with a particular focus on exploring and defining social impact.
  • To record and discuss the lived experiences and views of researchers carrying out impacts upon society/communities.
  • To deepen the understanding of the actions carried out by researchers to bring about impact, in the context of the impact debate and impact assessment.
  • To produce recommendations for researchers and research support staff

Research questions

  • Drawing on literature in the field, how is social impact defined and why is it important?
  • How do researchers understand and attempt to bring about social impact
  • the understanding of social impact be theorised using an appropriate theoretical lens?

Qualitative or quantitative?

To gather the data needed in order to address the research questions above, it is important that the researchers involved are able to communicate their own definitions and experiences. I think the most suitable methodology to allow this is a qualitative approach consisting of detailed case studies.

As I want to contextualise impact within the individual research journeys, a quantitative approach would not be suitable.   I want to further the understanding of attitudes towards, and experiences of, social impact in relation to particular areas of work; to do this I need to gather deep data which is based on lived experience, hence the need for a qualitative approach.

Feedback – please feel free to comment on anything in the post or send a response to some suggested questions:

  • Did you find it hard to make a decision between quantitative and qualitative?
  • Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
  • Did your chosen approach help/hinder answering your research questions?

Having the made the first decision for this section, next I will be looking at research design….

How many qualitative interviews is enough?

How do you choose the number of participants?

So this week I have mostly been battling with my methodology and research design sections, desperately trying to get a handle on how to justify all the choices I will have to make. You see, probably like many researchers out there, I know what I want to do and how I want to do it – I even know why I want to do it. But….my opinion is not justification for the viva, so I need to wade my way through a huge amount of reading to demonstrate that I have made my decisions wisely, and not just on a whim.

A minefield of qualitative research methods terminology

The reading itself isn’t a problem – a lot of it is really interesting and will definitely help me when I come to actually carrying out my data gathering stages. The issue is trying to remember the differences between all the approaches/methods/designs and understanding that they all overlap each other, not to mention that people use interchangeable terminology for some of them – a sure fire way to confuse someone brand new to sociology!

So I have had to take a bit of a step back this week and take it one question at a time. My current question is – how many interviews/case studies do I want to carry out? How many researchers do I want to work with to gather their experiences? I have been reading a review paper from the National Centre for Research Methods which aims to tackle exactly that: How many qualitative interviews is enough?

 

It all depends on context and your research aims

Something which the paper immediately explains is that, really, there is no clear answer to this, that it depends completely on the aims of your research and the context they sit in. This is something I can definitely relate to. For me, the emphasis is very much on the depth of the data – I want to gather a very rich, deep set of data based on lived experiences – something which I know will be time-consuming in nature. This will natuarlly have an effect on the number of researchers I carry out these activities with.

Predicting the future and the saturation principle

The paper also covers the fact that you wont always be able to predict the number of interviews needed, as this could change during the course of your research. The main reason for this would be if you are adhering to the saturation principle; in that you continue to carry out interviews until you stop receiving any new or different information. In my case, I don’t think this would be an option as I am gathering lived experience data and, as far as I can guess, there would always be new experiences and difference emerging, so no cut off point would be reached.

Quality over quantity

There does not seem to be a straightforward answer to my questions – I think for now, the answer is to focus on the fact that I am gathering ‘how’ and ‘why’ data, rather than ‘what’ data, so the depth of the data itself is more significant than the numbers. One way I might choose to frame the number of studies is to consider subject areas/schools/departments, as I am keen to frame these lived experiences in the context of the academic field to ensure the outcomes are relevant to academics and practitioners in their own fields.

 

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. 🙂