A week or so ago I went on this 2-day workshop on how to be an effective researcher. The workshop was sponsored by VITAE – Northwest Hub, and hosted here, at the University of Salford. It brought together PhD students from different research areas, who are currently doing their doctoral studies at a given HE in the Northwest.
The experience was quite enriching, I must say. Having attended numerous conferences and training sessions throughout the years, I no longer get easily impressed with the programmes delivered, which is not the same to say they are not useful all the same. They are, but, often in times, they lack the creativity and the active engagement we so regularly advocate in Education.
Thus, I was happily surprised with the creativity of the team of facilitators, as well as the strategies and ideas they developed to constantly engage their difficult audience: a group of aspiring academic researchers, who have vowed to dedicate the next few years exclusively to their research. Some ‘less serious’ activities could have easily come across as a ‘waste of time’. But I am happy to say that neither me (maybe especially me) nor my fellow students seemed to think it was not worth to spend those two days away from their desks doing something totally different.
The activities were diverse and tried to focus on different parts on one’s research/learning cycle. Themes like “Time Management”, “Team work”, “Organisation of Events”, “Managing your relationship with your supervisor”, “Understanding and coping with cultural differences”, etc were core to the workshop. The themes themselves are not new. They are quite common in the research context. The way they were addressed, and the students were asked to engage with them were, however, totally different from what we would normally expect. The boring presentation was replaced with creative activities; the questions and answers were covered as part of groups’ effort to make sense of what they were asked to do, and so on…
There was also (self)reflection – a paper journal, divided into topical areas, which we were supposed to be filled out as part of our participation in the workshop.
Above all, it didn’t feel as if we were attending a formal workshop at all. It didn’t feel like training, but rather like having access to people who were in similar situations to ours and who we could informally work and collaborate with.
But there is no rose without a thorn. And although – I say it again – this was probably one of the best training session I have been to for ages – there were some key point I thought deserve more attention to.
In the workshop we were always asked to work in small groups. The groups could, and normally would, vary from activity to activity. That was spectacular, as it tested our adaptation to working and communicating with other people. What I thought could have been enhanced though was the reflection part… maybe I should call it “the debriefing of the group activities” [and again that is probably only my Naval experience talking…] Although there was time allocated for us to fill out our journals with our own reflections and points of view about what we had gained from a given activity and how it could be applied to our research / PhD activity, I felt that sometimes debriefing the group’s activity within the group would have been also good. Plus, having a mentor in each group, who would helps us in that reflective debriefing, would have been of added value.
Another point that struck me as missing in this workshop was the absence of web technologies as channels for communication, collaboration and dissemination. It was only too briefly mentioned and I don’t think it was conveyed in a way that represents the growing importance it has in creating wider research impact. But that would probably be an extension to this first workshop. Yet, a useful one, if you ask me. I still encounter many research students who are literally scared of sharing what they are doing because they think people will ‘steal‘ their ideas… when for me, particularly, it is in the sharing that my research and ideas grow and take shape. I don’t know where I would be without my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and the collaborative support of those who help me think out loud about my research…giving me that vote of confidence I need to keep going. Actually, often in times, I think that my PLN has more faith in me than I do myself!
Yet, it is necessary to learn how to share; what to share and whom to share it with. But that is another post. One that will connect to my latest experience: my attendance and participation as a speaker at the Online Educa Berlin Conference.
Meanwhile, feel free to share what you think it takes to be an Effective Researcher.
For me it takes willing, commitment and determination; a PLN to constantly encourage you to ‘keep going’, the technology to connect; and the search for collaborative links as a way of learning and working with others. Attached to it all are other aspects that are as determinant, when it comes to be an effective researcher. For instance, ‘time management’ is extremely important (although easier said than done); a good relationship with your supervisor/ PI is crucial, and – maybe ABOVE ALL – passion for your research area is just essential. The rest, like a friend of mine says, is a game of persistence.
I have learned and experienced a lot in these last two years as a PhD student. It’s been a deep and steep learning curve, but an enjoyable one all the same. Above all, I have realised how far I have gone, how much farther I still need to go, always bearing in mind how little I will ever know! It keeps me on my toes, I guess…6 Comments