Was it worth it? Post doc experience

Many years ago, I worked in an office with a young woman who had a doctorate. Our boss commented that she was more qualified than he was, but she seemed content with her clerical work. I wasn’t. Since academia hadn’t come to me in youth, I went to it as a very mature student. I wonder what happened to that clerk with the doctorate. She must have had skills she could and wanted to use eventually. However, some don’t complete, perhaps because they come to hate their research, or don’t get the data or can’t manage the herd of cats that make their supervisory team. Nevertheless, you come out with skills, even if they’re hidden and you don’t realise you have them. They’ll come out in years to come. One post-doc (not completed) wrote: “I’m better at writing and referencing than I was” adding that the skills were showing in the technical fraud course she was now following.

Was it worth it? https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2018.1479378.

A PhD brings valued skills to non-academic roles, but “beware of the boffin tag”

I’m back to doing more or less what I was doing before my doctorate, yet I think my doctoral years were worth it, being enjoyable and confidence boosting and resulting in a few jobs where I made useful contributions.

Government department emotes

A Permanent Secretary ensured it was okay to blog during working hours. The blog gave staff of a major Government department the chance to express forcibly their views on practice and performance and the Permanent Secretary recognised their strength of feeling. People changed performance and boundaries, thus generating further changes in the organisation.

In a blog people can express and record feelings, to persuade readers. But restrained Government departments rarely share emotions let alone record them. The Permanent Secretary highlighted and discussed which staff suggestions he could act on. In a posting that sought to ensure that staff participated in the blog responsibly, he enjoined: “…don’t throw rocks from the side-lines” reflecting that he did not want users to view themselves as bystanders or outsiders, but he viewed, and wished them to view the blog as a means of performing shared views of the organisation and generating means of improving it. He bestowed legitimacy on the organisation’s blog.

You can use a blog as an important boundary object to challenge power and convention inside a group.

In our paper, “Don’t throw rocks from the side lines” we consider the dynamic nature of blogs, and the role of power and emotion in sociomaterial based studies. You can contact us, the authors, through this Open Resources Online link.

Group writing week

Writing together encourages the limping writer. Ten of us on the Police Knowledge Fund project spent time away to write about our research.  We set targets for each day, identified publications and decided who would be lead writer on each paper and we have shared areas on Dropbox where we’re placing our papers.

Such a writing session is useful for focusing thoughts. One target was to write the abstract for a paper, which means you need to know what your research question was, and that you have the data to address it. That at the end of the week we have five partly written papers in our Dropbox suggests at least a modicum of success. Now  we have to complete each paper and get it published.

Teaching Tricky Topics

Teaching tricky topics developed from our JuxtaLearn research a year or so back, and this January the Open University (OU) Institute of Educational Technology (IET) had a stall at the BETT 2017 show. The first part of the JuxtaLearn process helped teachers to analyse why students didn’t understand a topic, “I don’t get what they don’t get” is the typical teacher remark as students struggle to understand a new concept.As a result of that research, the OU along with Oxford University is putting together a process for teacher development to analyse the stumbling blocks to learning a topic and to assess how well a teacher’s consequent learning intervention works. It has three steps:

  • Identify
  • Capture
  • Assess

all explained in detail at http://tricky-topics-guide.ac.uk/the-tricky-topics-guide/.

When we were researching, I used the results as we worked to reflect on my computing students’ problems with object-oriented programming – I was applying what is now the Identify step. As a consequence of that research, I came better to understand what concepts were causing my students to stumble, and anticipating those problems, to provide tutorials that helped them over the blockages.

This teaching tricky topics is a very powerful process for a teacher. It would be great to work through it with a module team designing a new module, a fitting impact of the JuxtaLearn research .





What are the best things about research?

Researching means you’re always learning and finding something new, and it’s something you’re passionate about.  You can become immersed in research; it’s your pastime, your passion. Weekend reading and writing isn’t work but something you want to do, that you relax with.  Being a researcher is not a superficial profession, but something that feeds your inquisitiveness, offering variety and something new.  You connect with the wider population when you write and publish and it’s great when you do get published because that’s affirmation of your work.  Your research answers questions and you ask new questions and get to change something.

Decades ago, a poem from DH Lawrence influenced my hopes for work.  It’s here in a blog called Ratiocinativa.

There is no point in work
unless it absorbs you
like an absorbing game.

If it doesn’t absorb you
if it’s never any fun,
don’t do it.

I’ve taught in a variety of places, programmed computers for several organisations and done voluntary work, but most of all, I enjoyed researching for my PhD – I’d almost do one again.  Now I enjoy researching with colleagues – the collaborative aspect makes the work even more enjoyable.  Lucky me.

Engaging research and team work

Post doc research means you must work with others, unlike a lonely PhD.  This morning, we spent a couple of hours on a Skype call  in a project team meeting discussing writing a joint document. I thought I had problems writing my PhD thesis, but now imagine writing documents between more than a dozen of you from six or seven academic institutions, from several countries, with different languages, getting the right version of the document, updating without overwriting your colleagues’ work. Those are just the practicalities, never mind the different styles of writing.

Team work was not what I had to do for my PhD.  That was a lonely path.  But now, I work with a team of researchers. Although I no longer have the autonomy and total responsibility for my sole project, I enjoy working with other people. l am happy to learn to adapt and improve my writing style to write with others, and I share with others the difficulties of getting access to data. And share blogs.  Hence at Storyboards and Tricky Topics, three or four of us have been writing about the JuxtaLearn research project and about engaging research.

We want to get other people (teachers, students, researchers) interested in the JuxtaLearn research, engaged enough to try JuxtaLearning in their schools, and to blog about it or comment on blogs, but what interests a researcher may not interest other people. How do you get other people interested in your research?

Efficiency learned

Researching is so hard and takes so long. I used to spend weeks preparing research.  When I applied for PhD places, in 2005 and 2006, I spent a week at a time preparing my proposals for research.  Usually the form asked for how it fitted in with existing literature but I had no idea, neither about the literature nor where to find it.  Now, some years later, I listen to experienced academics discussing prospective research, a research quest to propose and contacts to network with for access.  How sophisticated!

When I started the Masters in Research, I had no idea about academic journals, what they offered or where to find them.  Yet I’ve just completed a systematic literature search of a business topic within days!  What happened? I learned:

  • about different sources of information
  • relevant academic sources
  • how to search
  • how to keep an audit trail of my search

The technology helps.  There are now

  • academic databases
  • citation software
  • analysis software

These all help a researcher work as quickly as the ideas flow, without any hold up to visit some distant library to find a tome,  methodically write  notes and copy details.  Douglas Coupland in the FT says we’re “rebuilding our neural structures”.  When it comes to researching the literature, I’ve rebuilt mine .