Tag Archives: PGR Development

PGT: WHAT IS IT FOR?

Most research into the higher education student experience focuses on undergraduate (UG) education.  Government policy initiatives on postgraduate education, and subsequent research, have recently focused on access and funding (see, for instance, the blog in June 2015, Funding Postgraduate Study in the UK: issues of widening participation and sustainability).  There is, on the whole, less attention given to issues about the postgraduate taught (PGT) student experience and on how this level of education specifically bears upon opportunities and life choices.  Attending to these issues leads us to the question, which this blog post explores: what is PGT for?

The Society for Research into Higher Education Postgraduate Issues Network, which Dr Martin Gough of the Educational Development Division co-convenes, again found itself at the centre of this debate through hosting a seminar event in 2016, entitled Postgraduate Taught Student Experience, Employability and Support (presenters’ slides are available hereDr Camille Kandiko-Howson of King’s College London, and who has recently spoken at the University of Liverpool on her work on student engagement, was co-organiser, in her role as the Convenor of the Society’s Student Experience Network.  This blog post also serves to report highlights of this event [i] pertinent to our question above.

PGT is placed precariously between UG and PGR levels.  So, for instance, higher education institutions variously position their PGT provision administratively alongside UG, as taught degree rather than as research degree programmes, or they make a distinction firmly between postgraduate and undergraduate.  This phenomenon does not bode well for promoting a robust raison d’être for PGT.  The day of presentations came together well into key themes, namely knowledge, identity and the problematic status of PGT, and, at least, certainly provided pointers towards articulating purposes for PGT.

Confidence, Competence, and Knowledge

Peter Fine, Director of the Sports Dentistry Programme at University College London Eastman Dental Institute, has been undertaking a longitudinal study of part-time Master’s students’ experiences of continuing professional development (CPD).  He adopted a methodological focus on the confidence and ‘self-efficacy’ (c.f. Bandura 1977) levels of his CPD programme students, who have started careers in the dental profession.

We all want our personal dentists to be confident in what they do!  But his presentation of his research raised the further question about just what this ‘confidence’ is.  Peter has been measuring it by means of questionnaire numerical scale responses from the students at the start and at further selected points in the course of his CPD programme (by when it tends to increase but not straightforwardly), as well as by focus group discussions and personal interviews.  This must tell us something important but relying upon self-reporting of feelings of confidence is prey to factors such as corrigible memory and variation in how those feelings are understood at the time anyway: so, for instance, when is a feeling of confidence just bravado, with the danger of recklessness?

The link to the right disciplinary knowledge is going to be key to pinning the phenomenon down more objectively and allowing confidence to be an independent measure.  If enhanced competence in students can be observed by the expert then, arguably, we shall have grounds for noticing more confidence in our dental practitioners, through their ease in their working and subsequent success, and the practitioners will be entitled to feel more confident as a result.  And the increase in practitioner confidence (and competence) will be reflected in more patient satisfaction.  We can certainly say that robust CPD for practitioners who have already begun their careers is a clear purpose for the PGT level.  Continue reading PGT: WHAT IS IT FOR?

Poster Day Online – the advantages of presenting research online

Poster Day online has now been run as an alternative event to the campus Poster Day (an annual one-day event where Postgraduate Researchers showcase their work, this year held on the 26th of March) for seven years. Originally set up for off-site students, but with a now wider intake, we are expecting over 150 submissions this year, including both posters and videos. So as the two events diverge in focus further, what is the participants’ experience and what have we learnt from the online event format?

The statistics alone reveal a high degree of interaction, since all online discussions are recorded. In 2014, we had over 120 participants, who with visitors contributed over 1000 comments and responses, which together comprise an aggregate of over 91000 words. There were some very lengthy responses to questions, but it is probably not surprising that most PhD researchers are keen to respond to questions and discuss their research.

The event appears to show a strong sense of community. We do have an attendance requirement for formal completion, requiring participants to respond to at least two other posters, explicitly encouraging   cross-faculty discussions which clearly helps to start the discussions. Examination of the data shows that over two-thirds of participants contribute in excess of the formal requirements, with 20% contributing six or more comments on other posters.

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Research staff broaden their horizons at a regional career management event

On the 18th of December 2013 we hosted the Broadening Horizons event at the University of Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Research Staff Development Programme.

32 research staff (primarily postdocs) from the north-west region (Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Metropolitan) attended a full day event and were involved in activities providing them with the opportunity to reflect on their career aspirations within and outside academia. The event endorses the 2008 Concordat to support the career development of researchers, namely by demonstrating the importance for researchers to be proactive in planning and pursuing an engaging and rewarding career.

Structure of the event and feedback

During the event, participants were assigned in groups of between six and seven members and they participated in activities that provided opportunities for discussing career options with their peers, reflecting on their current role and developing personalised strategies to pursue their career ambitions. Throughout the day, participants were encouraged to be open-minded in their plans whilst remaining realistic and being supported by their peers and tutors.

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Supervising Doctoral Students – threshold moments

We have all experienced those times in our research when we simply cannot move on, we are stuck! It could be in formulating a research question, finding ways to cope with and interpret data, finding a ‘lens’ through which to look at our project, even putting pen to paper. Sometimes you feel like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen in the face of the challenges rushing towards you.  We know all about it as researchers, and we know that our research students must go through it. The question here is, are there ways to characterise these barriers to progression?  And if so, can we use this as supervisors to help students find strategies to overcome these barriers to progress?

On 6th December a small group of us attended a seminar given by Dr Terfot Ngwana from Bishop Grossteste University. Terfot is a social scientist currently teaching on the University of Liverpool on-line professional doctorate in Higher Education. We discussed the various models that describe approaches to student supervision, which Terfot characterised as bureaurocratic, didactic and collaborative. Although at times we need to adopt all three, the most productive is the last of these. The supervisor here is the designer of the intellectual learning experience, structuring the learning with and between individual research students, promoting social skills, challenging and being challenged by students and allowing the student’s role in the relationship to shift as they develop.

So what about the sticking points? Based on his own experience of supervision Terfot made links with the work of Meyer and Land (2005) and their theories on threshold concepts which he described as critical moments of irreversible conceptual transformation. We can describe these as ‘Aha! moments’, or times when  ‘the penny drops’. That is, when a real ontological shift takes place in the thinking and understanding of how a specific discipline is structured.  This is the point when our discussions took off, we began to share our own experiences of such moments, and the often painful times when the penny simply would not drop, when the way forward wasn’t clear.

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