The importance of environment on the research culture on doctoral study

David Broom and Maria Burton
Sheffield Hallam University

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) includes questions about the ‘research culture’ and findings from the 2015 survey highlights the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing needs to improve. How ‘research culture’ is defined and developed is unclear (Cheetham, 2007; Evans, 2007) and searching has revealed a paucity of literature. Therefore, 14 full-time PhD students (n = 7 health, n = 7 sport) volunteered to participate in a focus group. Prior to, students were asked to consider what they understood by the term ‘research culture’; whether they were provided with enough opportunity to contribute to it; and what the benefits of a vibrant ‘research culture’ were. The 85 minute session was digitally recorded and transcribed, verbatim by two postgraduate research tutors who undertook a thematic analysis.
There were a variety of views as to what ‘research culture’ means to doctoral students but a consistent thread was the need to network, share ideas and engage with others about their research. Students raised a number of ways in which they felt this could be developed, including more presentations via regular research seminars and the development of research clusters to allow deeper understanding of their subject area. Students felt the benefits of a vibrant ‘research culture’ would be greater research partnerships and to achieve this required collaborations both internal and external to the university.
According to Kolb and Kolb (2005) conversations can be where “significant learning can occur” It is recognised that shared offices for doctoral students can be important in promoting learning through informal interactions (Keup 2012). Findings highlighted the strong desire to engage with each other so consideration needs to be given to future accommodation. Work with part-time students is planned and they will be questioned on whether the learning spaces and physical environment at SHU support or hinder the ‘research culture’.