CIRE student members present at the annual SWDTP Student Conference 2018

“This is my very first blog entry. I saw it fitting to write about something close to my heart, my research and the shared experiences of researching I am currently having with my colleagues. This maybe a very descriptive entry but I think this is a start of me blogging and I believe that the CIRE blog is the best place to start as this is a platform which has given me voice, encouragement, and so much self-growth”

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By Aminath Shiyama

This years’ annual student conference organised by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) was held on the 14th November 2018 in Bristol at the lovely venue of Brunel’s SS Great Britain. This year, the theme for the conference was Beyond Research: Society, Collaboration and Impact. Among the six presenters from the University of Bristol’s School of Education, three were CIRE student members.

Aminath Shiyama (third year PhD student), Leanne Cameron (third year PhD student), and Beatrice Gallio (final year PhD student) presented at the conference, sharing experiences from their research work and how they are learning to navigate the intricacies of researching and communicating research work in (un)familiar contexts. Below are overviews of these presentations.

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Aminath (Shimmi) in her presentation shared her fieldwork experiences working collaboratively with primary science teachers in the Maldives. Though collaborative approaches were presented as the ‘best-practice’ methods that guided her research design in developing ways of working with teachers as co-researchers in pedagogic innovations, her experiences in the field demonstrated somewhat different. Using quotes from her reflective journal, she shared instances where her expectations clashed with the realities of the field. Differing expectations, constant changes in plans at the schools, and clashing identities were the realities she had to navigate. Though some of these were unexpected, as researchers we have to learn to make a compromise of the situation, learn from it, and identify meaningful ways in which such clashes can impact our research mindset and the data that is generated in the process. To do so, she suggested that as researchers, it is important to construct a mutual understating of our chosen research approaches in tandem with our participants, be empathetic to the context teachers are working with, and have a positive outlook on the trajectories the research is taking on despite of the challenges that we face. The key is embracing the challenges and explore and learn the contextual relevance of the methodologies and methods we choose for our research.

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Leanne presented about her dilemmas of negotiating identity(ies), reciprocity, and the associated need for constant reflexivity in her fieldwork with teachers in Rwanda. She shared anecdotes from her fieldwork to illustrate the ongoing challenge of mismatch between her and her participants, including a mismatch of expectations and how her own identity was itself differently interpreted: participants viewed her according to her ‘previous’ identity as a teacher trainer rather than as a researcher, which made her view of reciprocity very different than that of her participants. As such unexpected issues are often part-and-parcel of fieldwork, Leanne recommended that we talk more explicitly about fieldwork and what it entails and proposed a simple framework for considering the researcher, the ‘researched’ and the interaction of the two. For our physical and emotional wellbeing, we need to explore fieldwork beyond terms such as that it is ‘messy’ and ‘challenging’ and unpack the possible issues and dilemmas fieldwork may bring us. She closed her presentation suggesting a mindful hands-on tool for researchers that can be used before, whilst, and after fieldwork. Leanne recommended that we ask ourselves three key questions regarding who we are, what we need, and what we offer. We can aim it at ourselves as researchers, present it to the participants, and consider the way each party is looking at the other, thus enabling some level of mutual understanding.

Beatriz’s presentation was about engaging policymakers in academic research, drawn from her experiences as a PhD intern at the Welsh Government. Contributing her quantitative data analysis skills for analysing the relationship between well-being and natural resources, Beatriz learnt a different angle for research impact. She shared with us five key learning experiences on how to improve the communication of academic findings with policymakers. First, she suggested making the analysis and results relevant to policymakers, possibly by connecting them to the current legislation, which enhances the chances for policymakers to take meaning from the results and engage with research. Second, as policymakers work in multidisciplinary teams, she learnt that her analysis and associated recommendations need to be ‘discipline-proof’ so that the message is transmitted to as many policy team members as possible. Third, it is important to be concise, straightforward, and precise in presenting your recommendations. Fourth, she recommended getting in touch with relevant policymakers and taking the initiative to do so is critical in getting the message across, with the earlier, the better. Lastly, oral communication works better than written communication when it comes to sharing research findings and this is done best in focused meetings with the group of stakeholders present. These are critical and practical ways in which research findings can be shared with the public and relevant parties so that research can have the impact it was aimed for.

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