This guest blog has been written by Benjamin Archer (student in the Department of Law and Criminology) and will form the first of two guest blogs by an institutional research team at Sheffield Hallam University.
During the third year of studying my law degree, I applied for the role as a student researcher on a project investigating self-efficacy and the links with student involvement in extracurricular activities in higher education. I worked in a team with two members of staff, Teri-Lisa and Jill, and five other students. As we were all studying different courses for our respective degrees, this brought a wealth of expertise and meant we could rely on each other for guidance on parts of the role that others may struggle with.
This project interested me as I was looking to expand my practical experiences beyond what is normally considered in a law degree. As someone who is more interested in academia as opposed to the practical career options, such as becoming a solicitor or barrister, I thought it would be a great idea to get some experience, and it would be an opportunity that potentially could have an overarching effect on the university as a whole.
Although initially nervous about the prospect of applying for a role, I was motivated to do so by another lecturer, who thought it would be a vital opportunity to partake in to pursue the career I am hoping to take part in. After an initial interview, where the project and its aims were explained to me, I became passionate about the work that would be completed.
Being part of this project involved a wide variety of roles. The first of these was to approach students throughout the university to conduct an initial survey. This is something I struggled with initially, due to issues that I have sometimes faced over my confidence. However, throughout time and the opportunities I had to communicate with strangers as a result of the project, my confidence grew so much, from initially being apprehensive approaching potential participants to eventually speaking in lectures to recruit participants – something I would never have envisaged going into this research.
The role also required the running of focus groups. With the help of either Jill or Teri-Lisa, myself and one of my colleagues conducted the focus groups. Whilst running these groups, it was interesting to start a discourse with fellow students on their views of self-efficacy. The fact that the participants were talking to fellow students may have increased their openness and resulted in greater detail within the data collected that could later be used in this research.
I feel that a student perspective was vital in this project. When being approached by a student, this may be less frightening that being approached by a lecturer, and completing a survey as a result may seem less daunting. There is also the consideration that students have much more free time to complete the project; if Jill and Teri-Lisa were to complete the project solely by themselves the project may be significantly drawn out and the effect of the research would be delayed.
I think this role is one of the best experiences I have had at university. Not only did it involve realising what other work lecturers do and the impact it has on the university as a whole, it also built my confidence, my understanding of how the university works, and spurred my passion for academic research.
I think there is nothing to lose from taking part in similar projects. This was the perfect opportunity to work alongside studying, as the role allowed for flexibility in terms of working, and whilst altogether the position accumulated to only approximately fifteen hours, the rewards far surpassed other employment I have had at university; and it allowed me to be paid to experience new opportunities that otherwise I would not have been able to have whilst studying.
Benjamin worked with Jill Dickinson (Jill.Dickinson@shu.ac.uk) and Teri-Lisa Griffiths (Teri-lisa.Griffiths@shu.ac.uk) from the Department of Law and Criminology on a project funded by the D&S Student Experience Fund, ‘Transforming Experiences’: Investigating the relationship between student self-efficacy and involvement in extracurricular activities.
Image attributed to The Blue Diamond Gallery