Reflections: Becoming a Post-doctoral Researcher
Reflections: Becoming a Post-doctoral Researcher leading the STP2013 project
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.
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.