Student Researcher Reflections: Learning about Learning Gain

Adam Weston |Student Researcher |MSc Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience student.

For the past seven months I have been working as a Student Researcher in the Directorate of Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research (STEER), whilst reading for a Master’s degree at Sheffield Hallam University. I began my role in September 2018, with my job share John Adesola, under the supervision of our line manager and working closely with various staff members in the STEER team.

Learning about Learning Gain

In my role I have mostly worked on an evaluation of the National Mixed Methods Learning Gain Project (NMMLGP) commissioned by the Office for Students (formerly HEFCE-Higher Education Funding Council for England), where I assisted with the running of focus groups across the sample. This gave me insight into some of the practicalities of collecting data e.g. travelling – the trains in the country really are not the best! I have also learnt that the same topic can take a different shape or focus due to the individuality of participants.

I attended the OFS National Learning Gain Conference in Birmingham on the 12th of March, 2019 and this was a great experience for a young researcher as this was my first conference.  It was also really nice to work as part of a project team, developing my interpersonal skills and having confidence when meeting new people. It was great to see the project to the end and to celebrate the outcome together. The networking, sharing of knowledge and engagement was a pleasure to experience and I was very grateful to be invited along.

Developing Focus Group Techniques

The NMMLGP has really developed a repertoire of skills that I have then transferred to other internal projects such as Widening Participation Projects and Evaluation of GoGlobal in December 2018. The experience of conducting focus groups made me more confident and skilled when assisting these other projects. An important skill to have with research is the ability to interact with participants comfortably and confidently, but also being skilled in the discourse that takes place and making sufficient field notes to aid analysis.


I had a great mentor from within the STEER team, who let me start by watching how he facilitated the discussions in focus groups and making notes. When I was confident enough, he gave me an encouraging push to lead focus group discussions with the other Student Researcher.  I also particularly enjoyed and benefitted from development workshops focusing on conducting qualitative research led by STEER colleagues

Working on an external project with stringent timelines meant the analysis of the focus groups had to be done in a short amount of time, this meant I could not contribute as much as I would have liked because of my work pattern of two days a week. Nevertheless, I was kept up to date with all developments which made working cohesively much easier.

My Learning Gain

The learning I have gained from this role has been invaluable, I feel more engaged with the University and I feel a greater sense of value for money from my experience at Hallam. The invaluable flexibility and support has meant that I have been able to balance my work and academic commitments well. l have also developed my skills as a researcher and I feel more confident and inspired to pursue a career in research and academia as a result. This was one of the main reasons I applied for this role; I had studied quantitative and some qualitative research methods and analysis in my BSc Psychology degree. However, I wanted a real life experience of working as a researcher on a project for an institution, so I could make an informed decision about whether this was something I wished to pursue in the future.

One of the main outcomes is that I have developed into a more employable, versatile, researcher compared to when I first began in September. This has reinforced my passion and interest to pursue a career in this sector, something I was uncertain of when finishing my Undergraduate degree. I have certainly developed more of an interest and respect for qualitative research which I hope I continue with alongside quantitative in future career roles.

I would argue that my role in STEER and the work I have done on the NMMLGP has significantly developed my learning gain in terms of knowledge, skills and colleagueship. I would like to thank STEER for the amazing opportunity of being a paid Student Researcher, it has been crucial to my personal and professional development. I hope this opportunity continues for future students at Hallam.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons