Postgraduate Research Culture at SIoE: What does it look like?

There are more than a few debates about what precisely constitutes a ‘positive research culture’.

PGR students Arwa Omar and Ruth Squire, 2nd and 1st year PHD students in SIoE respectively and student representatives for the Institutes PhD students, looked at the importance of research culture at SHU for postgraduates following discussions in their regular PG Rep meetings.

Both have had positive experiences of research culture at Sheffield Hallam University but wanted to explore what that meant for them and fellow PGR’s, draw attention to what already exists and challenge colleagues to consider where PGR’s fit in their understanding of research culture.

‘It’s something we are asked about in the PRES and, however cynical we might be about another HE metric, with good reason. Both of us can see the benefits of the research environment we have engaged with for our development and for our research. But we feel it works best when the culture and experience for PGRs isn’t isolated from the wider research culture. It’s about creating a vibrant and inclusive undergraduate, postgraduate and professional research community.

Currently, the institute offers several opportunities for PGRs to be part of the wider research community, with events that bring together researchers and academics at different stages of their careers. Last year, SIoE hosted the annual Doctoral Research Conference, which brought together researchers and academics from Sheffield Hallam and neighbouring institutions (including members of the White Rose DTP) to discuss their latest research and to celebrate their achievements. The conference served as a platform to share current research at the SIoE as well as other regional institutions. Importantly, though designed with Doctoral researchers in mind and providing them a platform to share their research, academic staff also attended as presenters and colleagues. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many attendees said that they found the opportunity to listen to other researchers at different stages of their doctorates and careers helpful for their own study and felt reassured that their journeys were not that different. They valued the networking opportunities, and the wide variety of topics covered during the presentations – including research methodology, ethics and analysis. Most importantly, and what we think is a core component of a positive research culture, many praised the informal and supportive environment of the conference. This year’s conference will take place on 30th November 2019 and we hope will continue to be valuable for all involved.

We are both regular attendees at a seminar series aimed at PGRs, where researchers at every stage present their work and enable us keep up to date with what colleagues are working on. The SIoE also has (at least!) two research groups (the Language and Literacy Education Research Group and The Practice, Innovation and the Professional Learning Research Group) as well as special interest groups (SIGs) which PGRs have been invited to participate in and we believe will offer greater opportunities for us to develop and share.

As researchers whose work also extends into departments beyond education, we also take advantage of opportunities that span disciplines and fields of expertise, including the CRESR seminar series and the university-wide SHU Creating Knowledge Conference. Events like this provide an avenue for students to present their work to a wider audience and offer new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations. PGRs also have distinct opportunities to come together as a research community, such as through the SHU Postgraduate Student Conference; this year’s event is on ‘Invisibility: The Absent, the Unseen, and the Forgotten’. The Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies (SIPS) also hosts a PGR poster competition, which we will both be presenting at this year.

Finally, SIoE researchers also have an opportunity to engage with professionals through events like the Festival of Education, which gives us a chance to celebrate and promote the region as a centre of innovation in educational research and practice.

Importantly though, there is no one type of event that creates a positive research culture for us or the wider university. It’s an ongoing relationship that makes sure PGRs are included, valued for their contributions and supported to make them. We are a diverse group, with different research interests, goals and skills, and commitments outside of study. That means that communicating events in good time, with opportunities outside of usual working hours, a variety of types of engagement and just keeping us ‘in the loop’ really matters. The events that we have identified here as full-time PGRs are important for us but, as reps, we also want to have a research culture that works for all of us.

So, we’d like to ask you, the reader, what research culture means to you? Is it different for PGRs? What have we missed and how can the institute help grow and sustain it? You can also join us to discuss this on 14th May to discuss this issue at our PGR forum.’

Written by Arwa Omar and Ruth Squire, PhD students in SIoE