- Supervisors & managers
- Premia - making research education accessible
- Supervising disabled researchers - Premia
- Providing advice on planning and organising research
Providing advice on planning and organising research
All postgraduate researchers have uncertainty built into their postgraduate research programmes. They need to be ready to adapt and change as their research uncovers unexpected material which challenges the original hypotheses. They may need to review and revisit ideas over the course of their research. They have to learn to live with, and manage, that uncertainty. There will, however, be the very firm foundation of the research degree structure, the known outcome of a thesis and the time constraints which are built into the structure.
While it cannot be said that the research process is linear, the core components are logically linked. For some disabled researchers, particularly those with organisational issues arising from a specific learning differences like dyslexia or dyspraxia, the planning of research may be a formidable barrier. We may tend to think that this might debar them from the research experience; however there are learning and management strategies, and adjustments that can be implemented.
As soon as we take on board the idea of ‘reasonable adjustments', it means that we can assist researchers to become independent by providing them with a map, a compass or a description of the route. For example, some dyslexic researchers will excel at the linking of random ideas, the big picture, the conception of original ideas, and lateral problem-solving. But the breaking down of their research activities into small steps and the management of their time may cause some problems. To release their full and unique potential, it can be important to provide support in the allocation of time and planning of interim goals.
‘The department did not provide me with either a course outline or criteria for my course. I understand that the flexibility of the MLitt qualification may make this appear less necessary than for other more prescribed courses. However, as a dyslexic student these supporting guidelines would have aided my understanding of my targets and what was expected of me. A description of the levels to be obtained for each marking band and a list of the modular weighting of the various components of my course would have been helpful early in the course...MLitt student with dyslexia
Although I have discussed the deadlines for each of my essays with my tutor, it has been at my insistence, as I have pointed out my difficulties with organisation. I would have preferred not to have had to push (them) to help in deciding on these deadlines, but rather if (they) had volunteered (their) experience with previous students as a guideline I could consider. Ideally this discussion of deadlines would have resulted in a printed sheet of preliminary dates and perhaps even my rough titles which I could have referred to and worked into the way I thought about my course.’
The researchers who spoke about organisational difficulties found the ‘freedom' of research not as liberating as they had imagined. Sometimes it can lead to anxiety and insecurity. The questions they raised were:
- How do I know I am going in the right direction?
- How will I know that I am working to the right standard?
- How can I maintain the big picture but give myself achievable goals?
If we prefer to practice a minimalist style of supervision, then it can add to the researcher's overload. But whilst independent learning is the goal, it does not have to be the starting point. Supervisors are used to working with researchers with individual learning styles and adapting to them. Logic, sequence and analysis are keys to planning research. While these may have been practised at undergraduate level and on taught masters, disabled researchers have consistently stated that postgraduate research poses different challenges or magnifies the issues.
As supervisors we may need to work with disabled researchers to identify potential challenges, to provide support to capitalise on their strengths and seek strategies to overcome the difficulties. This practice is relevant to all those we supervise.
One researcher with dyslexia on an MLitt programme said that it would be good if there were:
- 'More detailed course information at the earliest possible juncture.
- A discussion between supervisor and researcher which results in an organised and coherent list of provisional hand-in dates and essay titles early in the term.
- More targeted research training on organising your course and the dissertation module earlier in the term.
- Perhaps some brief form of training for the supervisors of dyslexic researchers about what it means to be dyslexic and how they can help.
- Introducing research students to the others in their department ... as this would prevent isolation for research students and also give them a point for comparison of deadlines and research methodology.'