Research time disappearing before your eyes? Try student collaborations

Working alongside students can help academics to both protect their research time and boost student employability, say Dean Fido and Louise Wallace

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University of Derby
23 Dec 2021
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Working alongside students can have positive impacts on research time and also student outcomes

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As much as we try to say “no” to the additional duties that are asked of us throughout the working week, in a role where prioritising student welfare and attainment is the core component of the job, it is seemingly our research time that is consistently sacrificed to ensure that our goals are met and our admin is complete.

This can be of specific detriment to both early career academics who are looking to establish themselves within their given field as well as senior academics working towards professorial promotion wherein impact case studies are key. However, with increased demand for higher education staff to be able to seamlessly switch between the guises of the lecturer, the researcher, the administrator and the pastor, we must adapt our ways of working to make the very most of our time.

How might we achieve this goal?

The way in which we have begun to address this within our forensic psychology group is to ensure that our academics work collaboratively alongside our students during their research thesis modules. In practice, this involves the generation of several PhD-scale programmes of research in and around the expertise of the academic staff, wherein each contains three to five independent studies that can progress without the reliance of one another and that contribute to a single, overarching goal.

Where student interests align with that of the academic, we seek to form research clusters wherein an academic works alongside a group of students to produce an inclusive network that cares about individual voices and ideas, while simultaneously meeting programme learning outcomes and professional body standards. In the past, we have also piloted research clusters cross-institutionally with great success.

The end goal of this piece of work is to produce REF-able and scientifically strong multi-study publications that help to combat the replication crisis via (preferably international) replications of findings in addition to the generation and evaluation of impact-focused interventions and public-facing materials. This process mirrors wider working practices within contemporary academia and so helps to prepare students progressing into academia or business.

What do the outcomes look like?

Over the past two years, the benefits for students (and academics) of this approach have been difficult to ignore. For students, the primary outcome is an increased chance of publication, which can have profound impact on future employability – especially in academic arenas wherein they can already evidence their research prowess.

Such employability can also be facilitated through secondary outcomes such as empowering research processes, building confidence to attempt more complex research designs and analyses and understanding the value of academic networks and peer-to-peer collaboration. Moreover, and importantly, these skills and experiences directly map on to the requirements of future employers, which, if positioned correctly, can help students to better argue their employability after the close of the academic programme. As such, this not only provides a learning opportunity within personal academic tutoring to help develop the way in which students might better frame their experiences in education but can translate to better programme metrics in this area.   

For academics, the primary outcomes are the protection of research time by ensuring that much of the time they spend with project students is dedicated towards facilitating research outputs, as well as helping to ensure that said outcomes are scientifically rigorous and impactful. Moreover, academics might find that this frees up time and resources to better achieve wider academic and pastoral duties, and more broadly relieve some of the pressures felt by this work.

Marrying our passion for research with the student experience can help us to better manage and protect our research time while boosting the attainment and employability of our students. Yes, there is a clear need to develop other ways of working to address the contemporary challenges we see in our workloads, but the process outlined here is a great first step towards developing meaningful collaborative relationships that are sure to play an important role in the growth of our students.

Dean Fido is programme leader and lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Derby.

Louise Wallace is an associate lecturer at the University of Derby.

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