Reflections: Becoming a post-doctoral researcher
I am fascinated by the diverse and complex transitions students experience whilst at university, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the multitude of emotions a generation of students participating in our research experienced. Their transformation into a student, and subsequently, a graduate of the University of Sheffield are mirrored in the changes I encountered. Becoming the post-doctoral researcher on the ‘Sheffield Student 2013’ longitudinal tracking project within the Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit has been transformational to me: I found my passion for exploring higher education, had a chance to pursue research into social justice issues with strong policy implications, and gained incredible colleagues and friends throughout this time.
Fundamentally, the longitudinal design of the study gave me the opportunity to get to know a group of undergraduate students. I heard about their journey that led them to Sheffield as well as their plans upon graduation: I heard about their fears regarding their first exam results as well as their dissertation outcomes. I listened to them talking about the issues of making friends in a strange new environment and their reflection on who they might keep in touch with in later life. I heard their harrowing stories about making ends meet via having to work more than 20 hours ‘part-time’, as well as their relief of going into a well-paid graduate role upon finishing their course.
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Throughout the project I kept a reflective log of ‘positions’ students I interviewed put me into in our interviews. These notes suggest that I slipped into discussions on careers, for instance when Samuel said: ‘you’re another person I could ask’ about his potential Masters application. On occasions I slipped into a personal tutor-mode, discussing essays, exams, dissertations, or advising students to look for support, for instance when Katy’s financial problems clearly justified institutional help. It is a humbling feeling how much these students trusted me with their stories, thoughts and feelings. It was due to this trust that often I was the listening ear that they potentially lacked otherwise, as Mo suggested:
I'm sorry if I'm actually wasting your time just waffling on. (...) Because I know this is research and you’ll be like looking through it and it’ll just be me talking about my life because I can’t be arsed to go see the counsellor.
I am eternally grateful to the graduates I met for their help and the trust they put in me. I am also thankful for the University of Sheffield, my colleagues in the Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit, as well as my academic colleagues Tom (Clark) and Dan (Vickers) especially for their support throughout the project. Tom has been very generous with his time in both working on the project and publications, and becoming a very important mentor over the years as well.
I am proud to have worked in WPREU: we became a centre with expertise in research and evaluation in widening participation, a Unit that others draw on. We are well known across the sector, our work being prominently featured in the reports of sectoral policy bodies, and serving as a reference to many practitioners. Without the knowledge, encouragement and guidance of WPREU's manager, Julian (Crockford), I couldn't have developed as much as I did in the role. He has been incredibly helpful in introducing me to the world of widening participation research and practice. I cannot speak highly enough of my colleagues Miriam and Greg: their curiosity, tenacity and supportive approach has made the Unit a welcoming place whilst producing very high level research and evaluation outputs. Simon has been the stability and consistency in our work, whilst organising some very large scale events, and providing a distinctive visual identity to the unit. I also very much miss our previous colleague Zoe working at De Montford University now, whose results from the BTEC student experience project are very interesting and valuable, whilst she also contributed a LOT within the short time frame she was working with us.
These are two photos of (some of) us at last year's British Educational Research Association Conference in Brighton. I am pretty certain that there is more to come and that I gained colleagues and friends for the future.
WPREU Lecture series: Professor Vikki Boliver
This talk by Vikki Boliver is an awesome summary of the issues students from non-traditional // lower socio-economic backgrounds face in getting into, through and out of university. Very much worth a look! The video was recorded at the 'Sheffield Student 2013' project final event.
Visiting Fellowship - BBS, Budapest
I took up a Visiting Senior Research Fellow post at the Budapest Business School in 2018, to work with Dr Gábor Király, Dr Zsuzsanna Géring and Fanni Barsony who are integral to the Future of Higher Education Research Centre. Throughout this fellowship I lead a seminar on research design and methodology in social science research, and run another workshop on English language academic writing for colleagues at BBS.
Further, I talked about students’ experiences of the research and teaching nexus based on my current post-doctoral research co-organised by the Centre for International Higher Education Studies at Corvinus University of Budapest and BBS. The details of this latter conference are available here in English and in Hungarian. We are are also working on a joint publication bringing together several strands of our work.
Just as we closed the first stage of our joint work, it was announced that we will have a chance to continue in a longer term format, as the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund application by a large team headed by Gábor been successful. This project looks at the Future of Business Education - a small little topic, hm? (announcement link in Hungarian)
I took the photo in this post in the CEU library, which is probably the most incredible study spaces I ever had the chance to use.
Best of Conference-Holidays
EERA ECER, Istanbul, 2013
Istanbul provided a beautiful backdrop to my third ECER conference in a row. Together with several friends from across the world we discovered the city, the food, and went on a boat trip on the Bosphorus. At the conference I had a chance to present my final results from the PhD, which were well received.
AERA, San Francisco, 2013
Based on joint work with my PhD supervisor, I attended this very large conference: a scale of event I have never seen before. I also meet up with a good friend and colleague I haven't seen in a while, stopping over in New York at hers on the way back. If only I wasn’t arriving back for the final months of thesis editing...
EERA ECER, Cadiz, 2012
This year I had two great friends joining me in traveling around Andalusia, and we spent a few days between Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Needless to say, this was the most relaxing way to arrive to a conference.
EERA ECER, Berlin, 2011
My first ever international conference presentation. Having to do things on the cheap, I stayed with friends - which also meant having a great tour guide to the city. I had very positive feedback on my PhD plans, which at that stage was really needed!