"Communication with research students" Katie Fraser & Nathan Rush, DARTS4


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Do PhD researchers know what we offer? Are our messages getting through? Our project tried to answer these questions by investigating communication between Library and Learning Services and PhD researchers at De Montfort University. A group drawn from across the service designed a literature review, questionnaire and focus groups to unpick the issues.

Particular themes which arose were that:
· Library and Learning Services had scope to convey better its relevance to PhD researchers, and ensure that this group received a clear and consistent message across all aspects of its provision
· Precise timing of messages was critical to the receptiveness of researchers to Library and Learning Services' communications, and to the usefulness of its provision.
· PhD researchers had distinct needs which could be better reflected in the directorate's communications and provision of services, including supporting their identity as researchers, and facilitating communities of support

We will present the findings of the project, and their practical implications. Participants will also be supported in mapping their own institutions' research support offerings against our 'PhD timeline' and reflecting on their timeliness.

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"Communication with research students" Katie Fraser & Nathan Rush, DARTS4

  2. 2. Introduction • Why we began the project: – Requested training had poor uptake – Wanted to know reasons for this – Could it be format? – Could it be timing? – Could it be something else entirely?
  3. 3. Method • Literature review • Action research project • Focus groups: – ‘The first time I heard about the library’ – Timeline & discussion – Card sorting exercise • Supplemental questionnaire • Phenomenological approach to analysis
  4. 4. Results • Timeline and timeliness • Postgraduate researcher needs • Areas for improvement in LLS
  5. 5. Timeline and Timeliness “Information is only useful at exactly the time we need it.” (Pettersson, 2002)
  6. 6. Crisis Point 1: ‘Finding your feet’
  7. 7. Finding your feet • “My first day, the supervisor said, ‘make the library your second home if you want to make progress.” • “The library is a bit confusing.” • “You need reminding [about the library].”
  8. 8. Crisis Point 2: ‘You’re on your own.’
  9. 9. You’re on your own • “After registration if one is not careful you can become disappointed … no one is there to show you what to do next.” • “Immediately after registration, your work becomes more individual [you’re] involved in group activities up to this point.”
  10. 10. Crisis Point 3: ‘The great unknown’
  11. 11. The great unknown • “Here be the dragons stage … long arrows and areas marked ‘WRITING UP’.”
  12. 12. Postgraduate researcher needs: researcher identity • “Sometimes when you meet other researchers from other universities you are envious; where they sit in their office ... [they] feel part of the university research culture.” • “You are a researcher at this university representing this university but you don’t get the means to do that, you are treated as an undergraduate.”
  13. 13. Postgraduate researcher needs: a sense of community • The training “makes [students] feel part of the culture.” • “[The] compulsory courses and the induction … was the first time I felt there was other PhD students. Until this I found university a little hostile towards me, in a sense.” • “[You] meet students from other faculties which is good but you never see them again. Then the relationship you have built cannot continue you still feel quite disconnected you don’t have a place where you can bump into other PhD students.”
  14. 14. Areas for improvement in LLS: perceived relevance • “I came in and I was like... to be honest... I’ve got to sit through this for three hours? But it was useful” • Expectations vs. actual experience • Limited understanding about the value of some services
  15. 15. Areas for improvement in LLS: clarity & consistency • Holistic impression across different dimensions of the service including: – Physical space – Resources – Subject Librarians – Learning developers – Etc.
  16. 16. Recommendations • Acknowledge PGRs as researchers • Find opportunities to increase the sense of community • Inform PGRs of the relevance of LLS (in collaboration w. other communicators) • Give a clear & consistent message • Improve timeliness
  17. 17. Progress So Far • Formation of Research Support Service Improvement Group • New enrollers email from Graduate School with overview of LLS provision • Improved awareness of terminology • Changes to literature searching training
  18. 18. Activity • Add your own provision to the timeline • Points for reflection: – Can you identify any other milestones? – Are you familiar with… • the crisis points we identified? • any different crisis points?