By Jennifer Leigh
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the SRHE Newer Researchers conference. The day began with Mike Neary’s thought provoking keynote on ‘students as producers’. He explained this as an act of resistance to ‘students as consumers’ rather than ‘student engagement’ or ‘student-led teaching’. We were then thrust into a very full day of research seminars, all supported by an active twitter back channel.
The conference organised the presenters into groups of about three, in small rooms arranged in a round table style. Time was allowed for a 15-20 minute presentation, with 5-10 minutes of questions, and was explicitly aiming to be a supportive environment. As per the name of the conference, the researchers present were newer to HE research, and seemed to be a mix of more experienced researchers new to the field, PhD students (still keen, enthusiastic and shiny), and interested students and HE professionals. As in the main conference sessions were divided into themes, and I followed those on staff development, early career academics and academic identity as these are some of my research interests.
Highlights for me included Sabine Soubes’ work with developing researchers at Sheffield, where she used creative methods to explore postdocs’ development. This seemed to tie in well with Neary’s keynote, as one idea that she mentioned was giving undergraduates direct experience of research, whilst allowing postdocs to conceive, direct and manage their projects which gave them the opportunity to develop their own ideas as independent researchers. I also enjoyed Marjorie McCrory’s (University of the West of Scotland) presentation on practice academics. I found her phenomenological approach methodologically interesting, as well as appreciating how her findings related to my own research.
After a delicious lunch, and a meeting with a group of students who were attending the conference from the States as part of a Master’s degree in HE, there was an hour long poster presentation. This gave presenters (myself included) the opportunity to speak to many more attendees and judges, about our work. I loved one comment on the title of my poster “Are the developmental needs of part-time teachers being met?” “Hell no!”
After this I ran to the last session of the day, where I was to talk about my work. I was first in a session that included a comparison of QA in Korea and the UK by Pochun Li, and a comprehensive study of QA in Japan by Sarah Birchley. This gave a fascinating insight into the differences between Western and Asian approaches to HE procedures, and led to conversations that continued throughout the week about possibilities of comparison studies and further research.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the SRHENR 2013 was bumping into familiar faces throughout the busier and longer SRHE 2013 conference as we followed similar tracks of interest. This made the more overwhelming SRHE 2013 conference a friendlier and more welcoming environment, albeit without the round table discussions of the newer researchers’ conference!
SRHE member Jennifer Leigh joined the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Kent full-time in 2013. She previously worked as a Research Associate for the Tizard Centre at the University of Kent. Her PhD at Birmingham explored reflexivity and embodiment, and she is now interested in how this relates to professional practice. Jennifer has worked as project manager on several large funded studies employing mixed methods of research, including the National Evaluation of Gifted and Talented Physical Education, and Imagining Autism, an evaluation of a drama intervention for children with autism. Her research interests include academic practice, programmes for academic development and part-time teachers as well as aspects of teaching and learning in higher education.