Brussels, 07 Mar 2005
Europe is not innovative enough when it comes to pedagogy geared towards the training of young researchers, and suffers from a lack of debate on the issue, says Marie-Claude Roland, who is seeking to launch EU-wide a project that has already proven extremely successful at national level.
Reflexives, funded by the French National Institute For Agronomic Research (INRA), created in 1995 a new pedagogical space for the training of researchers in general and young researchers in particular.
'The fundamental idea of Reflexives is that the training of young researchers cannot only include PhD students, but should also involve supervisors and the two should work together,' Dr Roland told CORDIS News.
Dr Roland is a linguist who obtained a PhD on the writing practices of researchers. Very soon she realised that if research is done through a system of reproduction - students continuously reproducing the way a paper is written - this will damage the quality of scientific research. Dr Roland felt she wanted to change those practices and decided to become a trainer. Since then she has been working on writing techniques and the conception of research, that is, formulating research questions.
Basing her work on more than one thousand PhD projects in France, Denmark and Canada, Dr Roland developed the theory that PhD students find it difficult to formulate research questions. 'Often PhD students are technique-oriented and tend to loose sight of the objectives and issues of their research,' explained Dr Roland. Yet the competences asked for in a competitive job market, the soft skills, 'can only be acquired if students work on analysis of issues, problem solving and formulating questions,' Dr Roland told CORDIS News. 'Otherwise they just gain technical competences and non-transferable skills.'
'PhD students must learn to get away from the bench in the lab. They must learn how to analyse and explain and not simply describe their experiments,' added Dr Roland.
PhD students often suffer from a problem of employability, and it is necessary not only to train them but also to inform potential employers of how research works, believes Dr Roland.
Reflexives therefore organises seminars where all these questions are addressed, not through discourse and speech, but through collective learning, reflexivity and epistemology in practice. The target audience is researchers, supervisors, PhD students and postdocs, and they should also interest journalists, private sector employees and companies.
Dr Roland realises that she is touching on a very sensitive subject as supervisors might feel offended if they are told what to do. Yet, as she explains, 'supervisors tend to say they have no time and most of them don't want to get involved. However, one aspect of the researcher profession is to be a trainer. We need to emphasise this. Tutors need to get involved,' she added.
'Our team has been conducting Reflexives seminars since 1997 with greater and greater success,' Dr Roland noted. 'Supervisors are getting more and more involved. We have touched a large sample of researchers, mostly in France, but also in Denmark and Canada.'
In response to the success of the project, Dr Roland is now trying to develop an EU-wide project for the training of 'active facilitators', who would develop Reflexives for their own country.