Syllabusless: Students and staff engaging through research

Nathalie Folkerts, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science nathaliefolkerts@gmail.com                                                                                                          Year of activity: 2016/17

Overview

In this project, a group of students collaborated with academic staff in SAGES and the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD), the two Schools that share the MSc Environmental Management programme, in order to create a database of interviews that would help inform future students’ choices for dissertation topics, supervisors, and module selection. Students discussed research interests and opportunities for engagement while also engaging on a more personal level, learning about topics such as research horror stories and favourite pastimes. This project was completed with the hope that future students would be able to learn more about their professors, whom they may not meet or have much opportunity to interact with, but whom they may want to have supervise their dissertation or discuss potential research projects with. These interviews were curated into 5-10 minute videos that will enable future students to learn more about academic staff, their classes, and the potential for research opportunities. Seven interviews were completed and compiled into a website that will continue to be expanded in coming years.

Objectives

  • Increase student-staff collaboration on and understanding of research projects and opportunities outside of the classroom
  • Allow students to learn about potential opportunities for research and dissertation topics
  • Allow students to learn about and better match with potential supervisors

Context

The MSc Environmental Management program is split between SAGES and SAPD; while this offers students an ability to interact with and pursue classes in a wide range of specialties, it also makes it difficult to understand all of the opportunities available and to connect to professors you may want to research with or have supervise your dissertation. Therefore, this project aims to help MSc Environmental Management students and others begin getting to learn more about their professors.

Implementation

I coordinated a group of 5-6 students who were interested in performing the interviews. We developed the questions and a plan for how to progress moving forward. Some of our questions included:

  • Could you give us an elevator pitch for why students should care about your field and research?
  • Who is your academic hero?
  • What is a recent finding in your research?
  • Do you have any research horror stories?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three items you would bring with you?

We assigned different professors to each individual to contact and interview. Because of scheduling conflicts, this process took most of the spring term. I then compiled and edited the videos, uploaded them to a new website, which will be made available and discussed with future students.

Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website

Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website

Impact

We successfully completed 7 interviews with faculty members in SAPD and SAGES with several student volunteers. We also developed a website to house the videos and to provide future students with more information on academic staff and research opportunities. Now that the interview structure and website interface is developed, future students will be able to benefit and contribute to this project, allowing its impact to continue growing.

Reflections

Overall, this project was successful in creating a space and platform for students and staff to connect on a more personal level outside of the classroom. One of the main difficulties in executing this project was finding students and staff who felt comfortable participating and who had sufficient time in their schedule. Because of this, we completed fewer interviews than originally planned. However, the professors we interviewed spanned a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, and we also established a simple and easily replicated format for future interviews. We created a sample script and now have several example videos that will allow future interviews to proceed smoothly and quickly. Additionally, continuing to add to this project year-round would allow more time to coordinate with student and staff busy schedules. This groundwork will therefore allow the project to continue to expand in future years.

Follow up

This project had multiple iterations and changed significantly over time. Working with other students who were interested in performing the interviews, we developed the final set of questions and format we would want to use. We opted for short interviews that we recorded and uploaded to a website. We decided, given the availability of professors, that it would be better to develop this into a resource for future students rather than a shorter project aimed at current students. Students will be able to use this interview collection as a resource, and as other professors see the purpose and format of the project, they may also be interested in completing interviews remotely to be uploaded onto the platform, thus expanding the project’s use. Due to the change in audience and a conflict with another departmental event, we had to cancel the original idea for an end-of-year event mixer where students could meet and mingle with professors, lecturers and fellows. However, as the project continues to expand, this may be something to consider in future years.

Links

https://exploreuorenvironment.wordpress.com/

This entry was posted in Curriculum Framework, Funded Project Examples, PLanT Projects, Resources, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, School of Archaeology Geography and Environmental Science, Student Engagement, Student Support and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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