Not another ‘how to handle your supervisor’ blog post…???

A publication from a supervisory team!

I have read many blog posts about the student – supervisor relationship within the PhD and it is one of the most unique relationships out there. I mean, who ‘really’ do you get to spend 3 years with (or however many years you do your PhD in) and have someone there all the way through to support you through the journey. I quite often have an issue about blog posts on managing your supervisors as these blog posts tend to be direct and tell you what you should / should not do. In reality, all supervisory relationships differ and what works for one person might not be the best for another. This is kind of why I am writing this blog post today. Many universities have training on how to manage the supervisory relationships but these are generalist and tend to focus on how to get on. In reality, students and supervisors don’t get on, some don’t like each other and some don’t want to work with each other so it’s something to keep in mind.

For me, my supervisory team and I had never met before. We have research and learnings in different research domains and I didn’t even know my supervisors existed before seeing an advert online. I knew nothing about my supervisors, about how they worked and what they did so it was a relationship that was completely new to me. To be quite honest, it was taking a big leap into the unknown as I had no idea how my supervisors worked and what they would expect of me when I began, but it was a decision I made wisely and I had researched all involved beforehand… even asking another PhD student their opinions too.

However, I have heard a few horror stories over the past 10 months and some which have been all but nice. When in a training session a few weeks ago one student explained that they were constantly scrutinised by their main supervisor (the equivalent to my Director of Studies), and that they were always putting them down. When questioned from other people, the student said they just put up with it as they were there to learn and that it was not a bad thing that the relationship was strained. This is something I have heard quite often and something I’m not in agreement with. So this has led me to write my own blog post but not how to handle the supervisors relationship. My blog post is about my own learnings on the relationships involved, and what has helped us to make it work. I summarise my most important learnings below:

Set expectations early

I think it’s really important to work with our supervisors to set expectations really early on. I’m not saying that you NEED to talk about expectations all of the time, but it’s a topic often missed by some students and supervisors, ending up in arguments of what was expected and what was not. I don’t think my supervisory team and I have even sat down and had formal discussions on expectations but it does come up in my supervisor quite often. Not so much as ‘we expect xyz…’ but between us in agreeing deadlines, work, progress and so on. We also tend to discuss next steps of the research, expectations in terms of where I should be and what I am not expected to know at this point. A prime example is of my theoretical framework development, something I am not expected to have solidified at this point in my research but something I am expected to have covered. Expectations have most certainty been an important aspect of supervision for me.

Meet or communicate frequently

I think it’s also important to meet with your supervisors regularly, more frequently in the early days of the research. This has worked for me really well and we meet once each week to see how things are going, review work and discuss and problems that have appeared since we last spoke. For us, we remain in constant communication via email, face to face and phone (if needed) so I understand that frequent communication has been key to help my supervisors and I get along. The most important thing is to do what feels right, some supervisors might not want regular updates and some might. In my opinion I’d rather update my supervisors via email if I know I’m not going to have a supervision for a little while or if something urgent has come up. For us, this seems to work. I think it helps to keep my supervisors involved if they know what I am doing and how I am getting long, but they also know when I do not need so structured support. We agree when I don’t need a supervision a certain week or when I just need to get my head down and get on with research work and this is something we agree on as a team.

Keep supervisors updated

That kind of brings me onto keeping the supervisory team updated, on research progress and much more. For me, I like to make sure my supervisors know what is going on so that they are always part of the progress and are there to help when needed. Also, I think it is important to keep supervisors notified of any problems that may affect the PhD work. For example, time away or problems you are having can be taken into account. More times than not, any problems are probably not as bad as you think and talking to your supervisors (or a supervisor) about them might help to take the burden away and the problems may feel easier. I found that my supervisors get concerned if there are things that could interfere with my work, but they also take care to make sure I’m doing okay and make this a priority over any work I do.

Ask for help when needed

Keeping supervisors updated is important, but I think also asking for help is important to. I mean, who do you go to when you need help with other things – quite often, the person in charge? I have found my supervisors extremely flexible when I need help and they bent over backwards to accommodate my requests. It is normally just clarifying things I need to do or extra help with what I have been given but it’s actually asking for help that I used to find hard. I used to think that asking for help showed weakness but now I think the complete opposite. It shows supervisors that you can’t always do everything perfectly first time round but also that you are continuously evaluating your capabilities and recognising when you need help the moment you ask for it. I think it also keeps supervisors involved in the process of learning. They are the ones who are teaching you how to research like a professional so they are the ones who kind of need to know if you are finding something hard of if there is something you cannot do.

Submit your work on time

I think if you take all of the above points into consideration, another important point is to submit your work on time. If you have an agreed timescale and you have not informed your team of any problems, then this expectation is already set. Not submitting means breaking the trust your supervisor has for you and also messing up their time. If you have a supervisors like mine, they may allocate time to look over major pieces of work for you and have specific times they dedicate to this so late submissions will not only make you

Tea makes everything better – even with hot chocolate!:-)

look bad, but will interrupt the time they had set aside too. One thing to remember is that supervisors often have other commitments too, like teaching and additional academic work. Therefore agreeing deadlines and sticking to these deadlines means your work can be prioritised at that time, whilst in the mixt of doing everything else they do. I also feel that being honest about deadlines helps to build trust in your work and abilities – if you are able to manage the project well, you will become aware of deadlines that are suitable and which ones are not so you can make amendments on the not so good ones.

Be honest (and ask them to be honest too)

I think THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the student – supervisor relationship is to be honest. I always work by ‘honesty is the best policy’ and I have found that it has worked so far with all supervisors, both PhD and before (fingers crossed). For me, this means approaching your supervisors if you are not happy with something (they or someone else has done for example) of if you feel something could be done differently. One of my supervisors and I had a ‘moment’ like this a while back and it is something I had never encountered before. It was something I did not know how to approach but simultaneously did not want to leave it either. For us, it was best to get everything out in the open and talk about things, to find that actually it was fixed in the space of five minutes. We were able to talk properly in person and sort out what we thought was a problem when in fact it was no longer a problem at all. I would not recommend discussing big issues via email, text etc as these can be misinterpreted and taken the wrong way, and it also means that things cannot be taken out of context as we all know sarcasm in an email does not go down well at all. I think encountering problems and discussing problems straight away has made us a better team, firstly because it shows honesty within the team (as you don’t want the team bitching behind your back as such) and that no-one will get mad, and secondly as it helps to build up trust within the team knowing we can be honest all of the time. I think if students can’t tell supervisors when they have a problem with something, this can impact on the work a lot. The student might bottle up feelings and start to dislike what is/has happened and this might then impact on the work done. I would always advise students to talk about this when they can so that they and their supervisors know where they stand. In my opinion, I would hope that a supervisors would want to know if there was a problem, whether it is caused by them or not, so that they can help the student work things out and love what they do again.

Understand your supervisors strengths and weaknesses- they are human after all!

I think based on the point above, we have to understand that our supervisors are only human. Some make mistakes and some don’t. If you get to know the strengths of your supervisor, you can work with them for it. Knowing weaknesses of your supervisor can also help you adapt your approach to them and not expect them to do something they may be unable to do. I understand that my supervisors have their own way of doing things, and some approaches are not always agreed upon as a team. However, I understand they are both excellent teachers and mentors and their actions are directed by wanting their students to do well and not by anything less. The both have good research and supervision reputations and would not be part of my supervisory team if they did not feel they could do a good job together and work together as well as they do. That being said, I also try to understand when my supervisors may not be able to do something so I do not set expectations of this too high. For example, setting deadlines for feedback or meeting dates to fit in with schedules and also ensuring that ways of communications (email, face-to-face) are appropriate to get a response back in a good time frame.

Overall I have learned many things and those things are summarised as follows: as a student you need to be considerate, respectful and on-the-ball so that you can help establish the strong relationship with your supervisors. However, you also need to be honest when things are not going right. Such honestly will hopefully allow your supervisors to see that you are the student learning and sometimes students push in the right direction, or reassurance, now and then. That being said, at some point during the PhD, whether it be in the middle or a the end, the student is the one who will become the teacher as they will be the one with the final expertise in the research undertaken in the years of supervision ahead. So ensuring that the student has a hold on the supervisory relationship from day one means by the end, they will be well on their way to achieving the results they want from the degree.

Developing the Theoretical Framework

image1.JPGAs part of my research planning and development, I need to have a theoretical framework that underpins the research. The purpose of the theoretical framework is to support the research study and to help justify why the research should be done. Normally, the theoretical framework would originate from the PhD discipline you are studying, however, my PhD is slightly different. My theoretical framework will differ from those in the normal information science domain (as mine is a PhD in information science) as it will encompass all aspects of the research – both information science and not. Although my PhD lies predominantly within the information science domain, it is highly multi-disciplinary. This can be seen by my supervisory team – an expert in the information science domain and an expert in the work and employment domains (often referred to as organisational studies domain). As my research crosses many disciplines form information science and organisational studies to psychology, I knew it would be a challenge to develop a theoretical framework. I am not yet at the sage where my theoretical framework is set, but I am going to share some of the things I have encountered from literature I have explored over the last 10 months.

I have decided to explore some of the theories that I thought might be relevant and tell you about reasons why this is not the case. As my research has covered a lot of literature so far, I am only going to focus mainly on the learning theories as I am studying workplace learning. However I might mention other theories along the way, some mentioned in the literature that caught my eye but would not do my research justice as the theoretical framework yet.

So what does it mean to learn and how can I develop a theoretical framework that encompasses learning in the workplace? Well, that was my challenge indeed. As I am studying how workplace learning can be used to enhance innovation, I thought the most obvious place to start would be the learning theories, however, quite soon into my research I discovered that some theories just do not cut it for my research and I am now going to tell you why.

Firstly, I found out that there are two main theories of leaning – classical conditioning and operant conditioning. This was great for me as I had studied these during my BSc and MSc  degrees and knew them inside and out. Classical conditioning has roots in behaviourism as it is how we learn by association. For example, if we associate a positive behaviour with a certain stimulus we are more likely to repeat this behaviour again. The two stimuli / responses are linked together and we soon realise the link, hoping for a replication in the behaviour intended. You can see great example of this in a study by Ian Pavolv when he conditioned dogs to salivate when hearing a bell. To this end, the dogs then learned they were going to get food every time they heard the bell and salivated in anticipation of such food. However, operant conditioning sees something different. This is where we learn by reinforcement. For example, if a behaviour is carried out and has negative consequences it acts as a deterrent for that behaviour. But if the behaviour if has positive consequences it will encourage such behaviour. Another good example of this is the Skinnerbox by a psychologist called Frederick Skinner who helped rats learn behaviours by association. By means of repeating behaviours, the rats learned pulling a lever would result in food being dropped into their cages, therefore positively reinforcing behaviours presented. However, I soon realised that neither of these theories would help my research.

This is because each theory is directed to learning certain behaviours and does not take into account any social factors involves. Although both clearly show how people (and animals) can learn, for me, workplace learning was not so simple and something needing further exploration.  At work, we won’t always have time to keep repeating behaviours to see if they work, nor do we have resources to be constantly reinforced (by others or supervisors) and to be quite honest, managers might not have the time full stop. We do, however, have lots of support and social interactions which is something these theories do not consider and something I feel is important with consideration to my research.

I then moved onto some learning theories that encompass social interaction and contextual factors, and for me this was what I was looking for (or so I thought!).This was Kolb’s experiential learning model. The idea of experiential learning was first developed by Kolb (1984) and later explored in terms of learning in the workplace (Kolb, 2015). Experiential learning suggests people learn by gaining concrete experience and then taking time to reflect upon that experience. Reflection is then followed by the generation of rules describing the experience and the application of theories known to this. From the abstract conceptualisation, individuals are then able to modify the next experience based upon previous similar experiences and reflection on these (Kolb, Boyatzis & Mainemelis, 2001, p.229). I found this model to be heading in the direction of my research, but it had too much focus on reflection. It also did not explain much of the social interaction or the role the environment plays in learning so to me it was not applicable in underpinning my whole research.

Next, I learned about situated learning, a term not head before starting my PhD. Situated learning is the theory which explains ‘learning by doing’ and that people (such as students) learn by participating in activities relating to what needs to be learned (Lave, 1990). This theory of learning helps people create meaning from the activities they take part in in relation to real activities of daily living. More importantly, the person is situated in the learning experience and knowledge acquisition is part of that learning experience, the context is situated in and the culture it is bound by. I thought this theory was fab! It encompasses how people learn in certain situations, such as in the workplace and explained how the situation can be influenced by culture an context, an important aspect of y study. However, one thing it did not take into account is the individual themselves, their thoughts and feelings on the learning process and how their individual characteristics can influence their learning overall. For me, the individual is at the heart of learning and the learning experience so a theory which ignores individual characteristics is something I feel is unsuitable and

I then looked a little further at the organisational learning literature to see what was there. I knew organisational learning differed from my research as it is the creation and use of knowledge on the organisational level rather than the individual level, but I decided to take a look and see. This is where I came across organisational learning loops by Argrys and Schön (1996). They explained that single loop learning was addressing a problem head on and looking for a solution to fix the problem. It is one of the most basic principles in learning and aims to address a problem quickly and efficiently. Double loop learning adds depth to this by adding in another ‘loop’. This loop serves to question the function and purpose of the work being done to see if the problem is suitable for the organisational itself. However, as with the organisational learning literature, neither considers the role of the individual in depth and focus primarily on how organisations learn. Therefore, once again, I side-lined this theory in the hope of finding something better.

It was then I decided to give up for a while and concentrate on other literature stuff. I still wanted to find a theory that could encompass all aspects of my work – learning, context and the individual but also one relevant to my information sciences degree. It was when I stopped looking, and started seeing what others had used in their own work that I found the theory that is very likely to underpin my research – The Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986).

The Social Cognitive is a psychological theory to explain how we lean. It encompasses aspects of the individual characteristics of a person, the environment they are in and also the behaviours they wish to present. This is called Triadic Reciprocal Causation (or triadic reciprocal determinism) as it explaines how such factors can not be separated or determined by one alone. Either way, it incorporates all of what I was looking for. Now you might remember a while back when I talked about this during my trip to Firbush with the other PhD students, well… this is the theory I was talking about and the theory that won me joint first prize place!!

Triadic reciprocal causation in the Social Cognitive Theory (Pálsdóttir, 2013).

So why am I thinking of using this theory as the basis of my research? Well, there are quite a few reasons:

  1. It has not yet been used in workplace learning, only in educational learning;
  2. It incorporates all aspects of learning that I am exploring – the individual characteristics, the environment (or context) and also the behaviours in learning;
  3. It focuses a lot on motivations in learning, such as self-efficacy where people believe they can achieved a given task. This is particularly useful in skill development (such as learning to innovate) as people are more likely to achieve the goal if they believe they can.
  4. It has been used within the information science domain a lot, a lot more than what I thought which will please my supervisors to know this.

You can read a really good chapter on the Social Cognitive Theory by Pálsdóttir (2013) in Theory in information behaviour by Wilson (reference below) and it explaines the uses of the theory in the information science domain too. I was really surprised to see that is has been used in the application of different information models such as the Model of Information Behaviour (Wilson, 1996) and also by Kurbanoglu, Akkoyunlu & Umay (2006) who developed an information literacy scale in relation to self-efficacy in the Social Cognitive theory. More importantly, it has been seen to bridge the gap between information science theory and psychology theory which is something my research might do due to its multidisciplinary basis and research areas.

Theoreticla framework
The development of the overall theoretical framework incorporating the SCT.

Now there are various other reasons for me wanting to use this theory, most of which I won’t go into just yet. However I do know that this theory (at a later date) will be supplemented with others to reflect the diverse nature of my research, spread out across the multiple disciplines it encompasses.




Argrys, C., & Schön, D. (1996). Organizational learning II: Theory, method and practice, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Kolb, A. D. (2015). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (2nd Ed). Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Kolb, D.A., Boyatzis, R.E., & Mainemelis, C. (2001). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions. In R.J. Steinberg, & L.F. Zhang. Perspectives on thinking, learning and cognitive styles (pp. 22). Matiwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Kurbanoglu, S. S., Akkoyunlu, B. & Umay, A. (2006). Developing the information literacy self-efficacy scale. Journal of Documentation, 62(6), 730-743.

Lave, J. (1990). The Culture of Acquisition and Practice of Understanding. In D. Kirshner, & J.A. Whitson (Eds), Situated Cognition. Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives (pp. 17-X). London, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pálsdóttir, A. (2013). Social cognitive theory. In Wilson, T. D. (Ed.). Theory in information behaviour research. Sheffield, UK: Eiconics Ltd. [E-book] ISBN 978-0-9574957-0-8.

Wilson, T. D. & Walsh, C. (1996). Information behaviour: An interdisciplinary perspective. Sheffield: University of Sheffield Department of Information Studies. Retrieved 24th July 2016, from (Archived by WebCiteR at


Setting the context to my innovation research.

RD5 plan
Plan for my RD5 review and my research project

As part of my annual review (the RD5 to help determine my target degree), I need to write a transfer report on my research. This transfer report is important as it sets the context to the research, reviews literature and methods in relation to previous research and also details a 3 year plan of action. For me, I have ample information on all parts but one and this part needed a bit of digging to uncover themes important to me (and more importantly, important to the current research). That section is the context. As my research proposal was already set, and was created by my supervisory team in response to a call put out by Skills Development Scotland, there was always going to be a purpose. However, the purpose of completing the research needs to lie within current policy and practice in order for it to be relevant and useful in context. More importantly, I need to understand the context of the research and the circumstances that have led to the development of a research proposal like the one I am working on now. So this is where I started and this is what I wanted to find out. I share some of the things I found out with you in this blog post to help you understand my research background and why it is important to be carried out.

So my research is about innovation, right? Why is innovation important?

Innovation is important to employers as it helps them respond to change and needs of the labour market, gaining a competitive advantage over other organisations. The economy and labour market are always changing so organisations need to be ready for that change with the creation and implementation of ideas (innovation) being forefront of strategies to address such need. However, competitive advantage must be sustainable over time in various contexts otherwise as time goes by and contextual circumstances change, suitability will break down and organisations will need to build new resources to address such change. These resources are now always easy to obtain.

paradigm plan
Developing the research paradigm

When did Scotland recognise the need to improve innovation?

From the Community Innovation Survey that was carried out on Scotland (between 1998-2000) Scotland’s innovation performance appeared to be in line with the rest of the UK (Michie, Oughton, & Frenz, 2001, p.1). However this survey focused a lot on the actual ability to innovation rather than activities that contribute to innovation. By 2005, only 56.3% of firms were actively involved in some form of innovation, reflected in innovation performance rates of Scotland (Freel & Harrison, 2007). This was predominantly in knowledge intensive sectors such as business services who were capable of being able to innovate and highly focused on products and services delivered to define whether the organisations were able to innovate. However, after the 2008 recession and a long period of unemployment and low growth, the Scottish government saw the need to improve innovation and set goals towards sustainable growth. This is when the Scottish Government stepped in.

What is the Scottish Government doing about improving innovation within organisations?

The Scottish Government believed that innovation was essential to economic growth and that investing in innovation would help to create new products, service and jobs to stimulate economic participation. To do so, the government created a strategic framework to help utilise Scotland’s skills base and improvements on innovation itself (The Scottish Government, 2009, p.3). Such a strategic framework responded to the 2008 recession, putting innovation at the heard of economic development to match skills supply produced with demand needed. In the 2009 Economic Recovery Plan, investment in innovation was therefore placed at the individual level of innovation, not in organisations alone and placed individuals at the centre of organisational innovation ability.

As The Scottish Government believed success depended highly on the strengths and talents of people, resources and infrastructure and how these are managed, improvements in these areas were the focus of the creation of the 2015 Economic Strategy. Economic performance depended highly on improvements in human capital and the productivity of the workforce to ensure the workforce were able to perform using their own body of knowledge, skills and attributes needed to add economic value to the organisation (The Scottish Government, 2015, p.7). A particular focus of the current agenda was the fostering of an innovation culture whereby organisations can provide the most appropriate culture to encourage individuals to innovate (The Scottish Government, 2015, p. 15). Evidence such as Alasoini, 2015; Al-Hakim and Hassan, 2013; Bertels, Kleinschmidt and Koen, 2011; Harbi, Anderson and Amamou, 2014 put forth idea that organisations play an important role in the ability for individuals to innovate and that organisations can also support this through the provision of training and development (De Saá-Pérez, Díaz-Díaz & Ballesteros-Rodríguez, 2012). Organisations can also support innovation development by formulating HR strategies directed towards the individual being at the heart of gaining a competitive advantage (Sanders & Lin, 2016, p.32-41).

But that is from a policy point of view, what are polices based on?

Research is important to help support policy development, especially in areas of practical relevance. Research into innovation practices helps to fill knowledge gaps in support of policy development. The Scottish Government supports the link between research and business and has a series of innovation centres to help apply research knowledge from the academic sense into business practise (The Scottish Government, 2015). The current Economic Strategy encourages businesses to engage in innovation research and development as part of daily activity and the Government has pledged to support fostering relationships through the university-business collaboration. Such research can then influence policy on the individual and collective level (Damanpour & Aravind, 2011, p.424).

The Scottish Funding Council set up Innovation Scotland, a strategy to increase efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability for support for innovation and entrepreneurship between universities and businesses in Scotland.  The strategy’s main aim was to establish a single knowledge exchange organisation to improve the academic landscape for business.  From this, the Innovation Centre Programme was launched, forming a partnership between Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Universities aims to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship across the Scottish economy. Research expertise can be applied to solving problems in the workplace, providing training and skills to training the next set of knowledge exchange and research practitioners.  So you can see how the government realise the importance of fostering university research and business relationships and act accordingly to do so.

Research into improving innovation can also set grounds for future research (Volberda, Van Den Bosch & Heij, 2013, p.1). In particular, research about individual innovation within organisations is vital for policy makers, both in terms of creating suitable policy for employees and policy development for the wider community. This can focus on how to improve characteristics and behaviours that underpin the capability to innovate and determine where gaps lie for organisation themselves (Tavassoli & Karlsson, 2015, p. 1888). My research lies exactly here and it is why my research is important. My research will have practical value to both policy makers and skills support agencies to improve innovation capabilities amongst employees within the organisation as well as supporting the organisation to set the appropriate culture and strategy in support of innovation development.

But is innovation a REAL focus of Scottish Businesses?

Well actually, it is. Innovation is a main focus of the Scottish Enterprise Business Plan for 2016-18, focusing on how innovation driving growth and competitiveness for organisations. The amount of innovative activity then to increase jobs and prosperity for the organisations functioning to support Scotland to become on of the best performing nations of 2020. The current strategy aims to improve the systems around processes that support Research and Development (R&D), transferring knowledge from research into practice.

But don’t business need help to do this?

Bringing it all together

Again, quite often, yes. Evaluations need to be carried out to demonstrate effectiveness of research results and key stakeholders (including universities and external organisational) play an important role in this. For example, in 2014, the Scottish Government set up The Fair Work, Skills and Training portfolio in recognition of the importance of employability and skills within the workforce. Skills Development Scotland then play an important role in the initiative by delivering workplace training opportunities (such as Modern Apprenticeships), pre-employment training and careers guidance service to help reduce gaps in the labour market. Working with key stakeholders and funders can help inform policy and deliver services for performance improvement and benefit organisations in the following ways:

  • Skills agencies can put individuals at the front of economic development and improvement, delivering programmes for this purpose;
  • Skills agencies can deliver services in line with labour market needs, including training programmes in areas of high demand;
  • Provide support to individuals and organisations to carry out training, including opportunities to learn in the workplace.
  • Skills agencies and key stakeholders can match learning providers with demands so training can be developed to match labour market demand, bridging the gap between skills needed and skills acquired;
  • Skills agencies can work within the current Scottish Economic Strategy to ensure they are working towards goals, addressing problems most in need;
  • Skills agencies can support research in certain areas, provide funding and support to researchers to ensure research is work-relevant

So where does the current research fit in?

Well, it fits in with all topics discussed above. Firstly, the 2015 Economic Strategy highlights innovation as a main area of improvement, and my research does too.  Innovation is part of the 2016-18 Business Strategy to help businesses innovate and the product of my research will do too. My research is also part-funded by Skills Development Scotland (a key stakeholder) who support the research by providing access to further materials and guidance to ensure my research is practical and work-ready. However, Skills Development Scotland also work within the current Scottish Economic Strategy and help to identify areas of need within research, encouraging universities to work with them to carry out such research. This was one of the starting points of the project I now call my own. My research was developed as Skills Development highlighted a research need and encouraged universities to write proposals in certain areas. Successful proposals (one created by my supervisors) are then delivered as PhD studentships through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences. This is the route I am current studying now.


Alasoni, T. (2015). Two decades of programme based promotion of workplace innovation in Finland: past experiences and future challenges. European Journal of Workplace Innovation, 1(1), 37-54.

Al-Hakim, L. A. Y., & Hassan, S. (2013). Knowledge management strategies, innovation, and organisational performance. Journal of Advances in Management Research, 10, 58–71.

Bertels, H. M. J., Kleinschmidt, E. J., & Koen, P. A. (2011). Communities of practice versus organizational climate: Which one matters more to dispersed collaboration in the front end of innovation? Journal of Product Innovation Management, 28(5), 757–772.

Damanpour, F., & Aravid, D. (2011). Manager Innovation: Conceptions, Processes an Antecedents. Management and Organisational Review, 8(2), 423-434.

Harbi, S. El, Anderson, A. R., & Amamou, M. (2014). Innovation culture in small Tunisian ICT firms. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 21(2008), 132–151

Michie, J., Oughton, C., & Frenz, M. (2001). The Community Innovation Survey, an Analysis for Scotland. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh. Retrieved from:

Volberda, H. W., Van Den Bosch, F. A. J., & Heij, C. V. (2013). Management innovation: Management as fertile ground for innovation. European Management Review, 10(1), 1–15.

The day of iDocQ 2016!

delegate packs
iDocQ 2016 delegate packs

So Thursday was the day of iDocQ 2016 at the University of Strathclyde. We spent weeks planning the event and took time to deliberate, make decisions and prepare for how the conference would run on the day. Before the day (and more importantly, on the day), we encouraged delegates to use the hashtag #iDoocQ2016 so that we had a presence on twitter and as you can see form some of the people who tweeted about the event, the day appeared to be a success.

Before I get started I just want to say a big thank you the iDocQ team, everyone who helped out and everyone who participated. I think we all deserve a big well done and I think the day was a success overall. Also a thank you to Bader and Elaine who took pictures on the day for our twitter feed (some of which have been used in this blog post with specific permissions from those involved). Anyway, the day started with the usual coffee and networking whilst student reps and staff sorted out technology. Needless to say this did not go as smoothly as we had hoped but we did only have one mishap during the day which couldn’t really be planned for. Definitely a learning curve on how to prepare for a day of conference delivery!

All set up for networking

The event itself started with a small welcome and introduction form our main staff organiser, Diane, who gladly introduced the day and also the student reps involved. She explained the importance of having events like iDocQ so that students can come together, network and make discoveries about each other’s research.

We then moved onto our ice breaker – superhero PhD. Now each student was placed in a group with fellow students and staff, with the requirement that we all worked together. We did just that. Our task was to create a superhero costume that represented what we thought was required form a PhD. However, the costume did have to be named and also encompass some superhero powers that students thought would help in PhD progression. The designs were fantastic and as you can see form the photos on the

One of our delegates presenting the superhero PhD final product

iDocQ twitter page, they were very innovative too! Students took a really positive attitude to this task giving superhero’s powers ranging from having integrity, being informed, having an emergency ‘call the supervisor button’ and finally an invisibility cloak so that you can spy on reviewers and decision makers within the PhD (without getting caught). The activity helped students get to know each other and also work together. More importantly (in my opinion), our group did note that each student has to have some form of craziness in them for doing the PhD and that’s what gets them through some the tougher times that they experience. For me, it was nice to work with people who I had never met before as well as people who I had. We were able to construct our ‘superhero-PhD’ in no time and present it to the rest of iDocQ.

Alison brettle
Dr Alison Brettle presenting at iDocQ 2016

We then heard a brilliant keynote form Dr Alison Brettle (Salford University) who is currently Reader in Evidence Based Practice and Acting Director of Post Graduate Research – so we know she has the research expertise as well as research student jazz. Alison was able to speak form her heart when explaining how her career came to where she is today but also speak as a tutor, expert and someone who knows how tough it is just to be a research student in the ever changing world of academia. Alison told us about her journey to the PhD, how it all started with wanting to work in one sector but had problems with meeting the ‘height requirements’ (being short does have its limits – all 5ft 1 inch of me knows that!). She then explained how she got into the tourism sector and worked in France for a while before moving into the library and information sciences area working on various research projects. She gave a lot more detail of her journey and personal experiences which I will leave to her to tell, but she helped us students understand that its often not a liner path we take to get where we are today, but if its where we want to be, we will end up there if we put in the hard work. Alison did her PhD by publication and was able to incorporate this route into her talk, explaining some of the reasons why she chose this over the normal PhD route.

Alison’s talk was entitled ‘Being evidence based: using opportunities to demonstrate outcomes and impact’ and she explored her research on the study of the impact of clinical librarians on patient and healthcare organisations and how the research was carried out. We heard about her work and publications on several projects, where she emphasises the importance of impact of publications and literature on decision within the healthcare

stationary free gifts
The contents of the delegate packs

sector organisations such as the NHS. Now as I have worked in the NHS, on a project lead by a clinical librarian, I understood Alison’s points. Form my experience I understood the importance that literature holds on clinical practice and that is the exact point Alisson made.  The final discussions were on the development of a value and impact toolkit that Alison has developed with her colleagues. This toolkit was designed to help measure value and impact within healthcare settings as there was no such tool existed previously. You can find much more on the website above.

After a quick coffee stop, we moved straight into delegate presentations. As you can see form my previous blog posts, this time a 20×20 was required. In my opinion each student did fantastically as it does take some work to perfect your work into 20 seconds. We heard about a variety of work from information behaviour of visually impaired people, knowledge flows and the role of social networking in job searches. Personally, I think it was a great range of presenters from different universities and also a diverse range of topics. We were able to experience research from the outsider’s perspective and got the opportunity to prize out some of the most important parts during the question time following each student’s presentation. You can see how well all delegates presented by checking out Hazel Hall’s twitter page. She kindly tweeted all of the day, including lots of information on delegates, presentations and other interesting parts of the day so please to take a look.

Katherine Loudon University of Strathclyde The information behaviours of visually impaired people
Lyndsey Jenkins Edinburgh Napier Enhancing the capacity for workplace learning and innovation in Scotland
Matjaz Vitmar


University of Edinburgh Networks and knowledge flows: The Case of Scottish Space Industry
Alicja Pawluczuk Edinburgh Napier University Youth digital culture co-creation: measuring the social impact in Scotland
Elaine Robinson University of Strathclyde Panopticism in the UK Public Library
John Mowbray Edinburgh Napier University The role of networking and social media tools during job search: an information behaviour perspective
Iris Buunk Edinburgh Napier University Easier, faster, better? How social media facilitate tacit knowledge sharing practices between employees within organisations belonging to the public sector
Cathy Foster University of Strathclyde Seeking to Succeed: the information behaviour of adolescent learners
Liam Ralph Edinburgh Napier University An exploration of Police use of social media in Scotland

Paul Stevenson


Robert Gordon University Evaluation of The Embedded Librarian in an NHS Environment
Frances Ryan Edinburgh Napier University The role of online information in the building, maintenance and evaluation of personal reputation

Mojeed Adekunle Amidu


Loughborough University The Impact of Culture on Information Behaviour: A case study of the Polio Eradication Campaigns in Nigeria
Part of the iDocQ lunch! (image thanks to Bader Nuwisser)

Each delegate was then judged by a panel of experts (the iDocQ staff team). I am very happy to announce that the winner of best 20×20 presentation was Alicja whose presentation was unique and particularly excellent as she is only two months into her PhD! Other students did get special recognition for their efforts, but in my opinion everyone did their best and managed to present their work brilliantly! For me, I think my presentation went well (ish) but I did speak fast and I was very nervous. The nerves hit just before I was called up and considering that this is my first oral presentation in front of non-Napier staff, I can’t say it was a horrendous performance. You can see a copy of my presentation here, but do remember it is a 20×20 so the pictures do not so the vocabulary justice!

LJ taken by Bader
Lyndsey Jenkins beginning her 20×20 presentation (image thanks to Bader Nuwisser)

Our afternoon sessions were received just as well. Dr Diane Pennington delivered her session on choosing the right methodologies, exploring factors to consider when looking into and designing methodology. I hear that Dr Frank Hopfgartner’s session on time management was also a success. I overheard some of our students explain that it was interesting and very relevant in terms of techniques that can be used in their own work to help them manage their own time more effectively. Dr Lizzy Tait explored the impacts of research and how to improve it. This is particularly important in terms of the impact agenda but also to ensure your research has effect. Students were able to learn about how important impact is also what they can do to enhance their own research outputs, and I head lots of positive comments from those attending Lizzy’s session afterwards.

Professor Hazel Hall delivered her session on publishing and its benefits. I attended this one as it is really important for the PhD. Publishing helps us to disseminate work, get ourselves known in the research world and helps us to link in and network with other academics and knowledgeable others in the area. It’s also an important factor when it comes to the viva assessment as published work is quite difficult to criticise, especially if it has been published in a journal. We explored the different types of publishing, form conference publications (posters, papers etc) and also journal articles. Hazel explained important journals within the information science area so we know what type of journals to aim for to take publishing to its best. She also encouraged us all to discuss what we had already done in terms of publishing and explored the benefits of this and where it would stand in our final thesis chapters. For me, I probably need this session most. I have a journal published already but it is not massive on impact and it is not in the information science area. I am wanting to get more publications from my PhD eventually as I am now aware of the importance of publishing and a lack of publications can actually hinder the job prospects immediately after the PhD if these are not accomplished.

Keeping our delegates well fed!

Our final session of the day was the discussion panel, made up of five academics. In our line-up we had:

Dr Frank Hopfgartner (Glasgow University)

Dr Ella Taylor-Smith (Edinburgh Napier University)

Dr Laura Muir (Edinburgh Napier University)

Dr Diane Pennington (University of Strathclyde)

Dr Alison Brettle (Salford University)

 The questions were those placed in or ‘anonymous box’ and were posed to our panel of experts. Firstly, we heard discussions on what to do if you feel your research is going in the wrong direction. The advice was not to panic. Talk to your supervisors and talk to others. If it’s going in the wrong direction research area-wise then your supervisors are the first port of call, but if it is other external variables influencing the PhD then other external parties can help. When asked if the panel ad ever felt like giving up, we got a variety of answers. One of our experts said no, she loved her PhD too much and the research was what she loved. Others addressed how to approach the problem if you feel this way, emphasising the point of the student counselling services if the feelings are not normal for you. Quite often students feel like giving up as they encounter problems and they do not know what to do. My own thought of giving up came just before Christmas least year when I was homesick and unwell, but I did get through it. Talk to your supervisors (like I did in the end), friends, colleagues and external professions (I’ve also done that too). Do anything you can to highlight these problems and find help and ways to address them. I am not ashamed to say that I have used the ‘external’ services as I knew I might have a problems that my supervisor could not deal with. I know that these services are important to student wellbeing and I would encourage all students to use these serves if required during the PhD journey, even if it is just to get a quick ‘reality check’ and further understanding. When prompted about ‘imposter syndrome’ our panel even pointed this out, saying that supervisors are not qualified mental health professionals so the role of the student counsellor is key in areas like this (but do still talk to your supervisor too!). I was very lucky during my bachelor’s degree that my supervisor was actually a qualified and practicing cognitive behavioural therapist. He was able to address problems head on and give me strategies when I was struggling which was fab. However, I know this is not the case for all supervisors and I know I just hit lucky with his skills and expertise.

Lots of thinking during the superhero PhD ice breaker activity early morning

When asked what one thing supervisors would like to see form their supervisors, the answers were unique to every person. One of our panel members used an example when she saw a ‘shift’ in her PhD student from being dependent to becoming an independent researcher and for her that was what she looks for (and all others pretty much agreed to some extent). Other answers included ‘independence’, ‘curiosity’ and being able to manage the expectations from your supervisor. Knowing what is expected form you makes the journey easier and a more conformable one, being open and honest throughout. For every PhD supervisor the answer will be different and I admire those who openly discuss expectations with supervisors as quite often, the topic is missed out.

When a question was asked about blogging, we had to ask our non-panel blogging expert (who was tweeting away at the time). Hazel explained that there are benefits to having a blog, but blogging is not for everyone so do if it fits, and don’t if it does not. For me, being a blogger requires dedication to actually writing a blog post. You need to set guidelines to how many times you will blog each month for example, and also stick to that. You also need to enjoy it as there is no point at all writing for the sake of writing – you will not engage you audience and it will most certainly not engage you.  I blog because I enjoy it but also because it helps me to get my thoughts on ‘paper’ and get them out there. I find it quite cathartic if others know I am struggling with research or if I am happy with what I have done so getting my research out there on my blog has an importance to me in my PhD for more reasons than just one. Towards the end of the discussion, Dr Brettle explained more about the systematic literature review that she has talked about in her keynote but explained that this does not suit every PhD. She explained that often, people are unsure whether to use them and sometimes a regular in-depth literature review is more appropriate (depending on the research itself).

The final question was quite explicit: What is the best advice you could give to a student understanding a PhD? and in my opinion these answers are what stand out the most.

  • You can’t get all of your work done sitting at a computer, take a break and go for a walk to use it as thinking time.
  • Make sure you still have a social life – it’s not all about work!
  • You’re not trying to conquer the world, you’re working to graduate (as you wold when doing any other type of degree). Remember there is a point.

BUT, the most important advice was not actually form a panel member… it was from the student of a panel member and is something we should all keep in mind:

‘PhD’s are quite hard… but we can do it!’

And I think I’ll end my blog post on that.

Reflections on building self-confidence in the PhD

L sitting at Univ Conf
Photo kindly taken by Prof Hazel Hall.

One of the main goals that I set myself as part of undertaking a PhD was to work on increasing my self-confidence, not only as a researcher, but also presenting my work to others. For me, I hate presenting in front of others and the thought of having to deliver some sort of presentation in front of an academic audience is not something that I welcome. Now you would think this would not be a problem for me considering I have previously worked in places such as the Centre for Life (in Newcastle) and also Beamish Museum (North East England) where every day part of my role was to ‘present ourselves’ and interact with people wanting to use the service – but you would be wrong. I was also part of the Schools Service as a volunteer for ChildLine (part of the NSPCC) and each week or so, I would deliver assemblies and workshops to children explaining different forms of abuse and how to spot it or get help. For a lot of people, talking to children about abuse that they could suffer might be hard, but I loved it knowing that I was helping to make a difference to those children. It did take me a while to build up my confidence in presenting but once I was fully trained and working, I most definitely absolutely loved it.

Speaking in front of people confidently and also presenting my work was one of the things I set myself as a primary goal to improve. During my education and employment I have seen people deliver sessions, presentations and training, wondering how they did it so effectively and it really made me understand how important these skills are in terms of being confident and feeling confident in what you do. So in the last 8 months as a research student, I have participated in many activities aimed to help improve my confidence in presenting so I am going to give a little advice to others based on what I have managed to do so far. Here is my advice to you:

  1. Get to know other students…

Firstly, I think it is really important to get to know others working in the area, both academics in your department and also different departments. For me, our student induction event kind of helped me do this. I got to know other students researching many different areas, some who were new to research and some (like me) who had kind of progressed through. This interaction enabled me to talk about my research ideas as it was only week one so none of us had really worked on our research as such as this point. It helped me gain insight into other research out there and also acknowledge (form the start) that there are a lot of PhD students in the same boat, trying endlessly to learn as much as possible in the PhD process.

  1. Get to know people in your department (and research group)…

Secondly, I think it’s really important to meet others in your research groups and departments. On my first day as a research student (and as part of my induction), my supervisor took me to meet some of the staff who would be able to help me along the way through my PhD journey, but also people who she thought I kind of needed to know. I also

Members of the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) – image courtesy of photographer Prof Hazel Hall at the University Research Conference.

made efforts to meet people who I had not yet met so it meant that when I needed to talk to them, or ask for help, I know who they were and what they did. It was also beneficial to attend events (such as the Edinburgh Napier University conference) with some of our research group too so that I was able to feel part of the group and not feel too scared when presenting my poster later during the event. It also helps to ensure that isolation does not kick in so participating in academic events like this shows your commitment to the research group, but also helps in getting to know your colleagues a little better in their own academic setting.

  1. Attend lectures and seminars…

For me, my confidence in talking about my research started when I started attending lectures and seminars (both departmental and external). I attended some in the Business School where my research is seen to have a place (partly, yes), but this also helped me to get to know other research students and their research topics too. I was able to work on explaining my research to people not working in my area and building up that confidence in explaining what I was planning to do. Also for me, I did not feel part of the team so much until I started attending departmental seminars. Apart from showing your support to colleagues, I think it helped people to get to know me and me to get to know them so when we have different seminars and meetings people know who I am and what I am trying to do (hopefully) without having to continuously ask.

  1. Start by explaining your research to your supervisors…

The most critical people of your research will be your supervisors (in my opinion). Initially, I had problems as I did not want to receive criticism from anyone, but now I understand that criticism is vital in success (you have to feel the failure to facilitate the learning process). Receiving criticism and feedback on my work has helped me work on telling my supervisors what I am doing and some of the reasons why. It helps me in discussions of what I will be planning to do next and when I have an idea or so, I do not feel so fearful of telling my supervisors what I think. I ran into a problem with this a few weeks ago when

Explaining the whole of human behaviour using a teddy bear and three volunteers (image thanks to Frances Ryan).

I suggested a potential theoretical framework and I was welcomed with silence and the odd work here or there. I knew instantly that neither of my supervisors welcomed my idea and that I would need to go away and provide evidence to prove my point. This is something I will be preparing over the next few weeks and will be able to update you all once my discoveries are fully known. Part of my own problem is that I know my superiors are watching when I present, and I know they are secretly analysing everything you say and do (there are photographs to prove this haha!). This bothers my slightly. I kind of just need to get over those intrusive thoughts as knowing I have support from my supervisors is one thing that keeps me working. I’m not saying that a research student should do everything they do to please their supervisors but supervisors should be there to provide guidance, feedback and support when needed, and students need to have this in mind when presenting. Supervisors have a reputation to keep up so if it is evident that students have not prepared or are lacking the right support, then this could reflect not so well on the supervisor. More importantly, supervisors do not want you to fail (we hope). So taking time to understand supervisors expectations and getting that vital feedback is something I would highly recommend!

  1. Volunteer to organise a conference or two…
Soc certificate
Second place prize for best poster at the School of Computing research student conference.

I have found (oddly) that volunteering to be on a conference committee has helped increase my confidence considerably. Firstly, I was on the School of Computing research student conference committee and part of my role was to chair a set of presentations followed by a Q&A session after each. I often find that I get nervous in front of a larger audience so this was not my cup of tea at all when I first volunteered, but I do hold the strong belief that you learn by facing your fears. So I did. The day ran quite smoothly and I was even congratulated by people on how I chaired the session (including our director of research who came to me personally to tell me this). Something like this did not require me to prepare a presentation as such, but I needed to be aware of things like timing, people’s names and running order so that my delivery could go without a hitch. I also had to work with the rest of the team to help with planning and the second year PhD students to make sure presentations were on time and designed correctly. I obviously would not admit this (haha!) but I quite enjoyed the day overall and chairing the session I was assigned. It showed

Joint first place winners for best oral presentations at Firbush (image thanks to Frances Ryan).

me that my ‘stage fright’ only occurs in certain situations and that I don’t always make mistakes (like then I forgot my funders name in the research day presentation earlier in the year!). So next week, I’ll also be doing a similar at iDocQ where I am the Edinburgh Napier student rep and have been working with other staff and students at Strathclyde to organise the conference. I’ll leave that one there though as I have blogged about this before and I am sure I will be writing a blog post about the event itself. I don’t want to spoil all of the fun.

  1. Start by explaining your research in one minute…

During the research day in January, my ‘one minute madness presentation’ was not good. I forgot my funder’s name which threw my whole minute off course and I felt like a complete failure. However, a few months later at our School Conference, I did the exact opposite. I did not stress over this beforehand and prepared my one minute presentation structurally and practised it every now and then to keep the timing. The one thing that I thought would bother my (my supervisor looking straight ahead at me) did not bother me at all for that minute and I was quite surprised by my own reaction. I don’t believe that it was a great one minute presentation but I was able to continue to and introduce my research area more confidently and this time I did not feel like a compete failure. The one minute madness was actually an introduction to a poster that I was delivering later in the day and I coincidently won second prize for this at the conference which I was pleased with. I have also delivered one minute madness presentations and you can see tweets form my colleagues here who photographed me during my time ‘on stage’. The one minute madness presentation are good in the short run but…

  1. What about presenting a poster?
Univ_LJ from HH
Lyndsey presenting her poster at Edinburgh Napier University Conference (image thanks to Prof Hazel Hall).

I know quite a lot of academics who believe that posters are a waste of time. However, I feel the exact opposite. Designing a poster about your research, and then presenting this at a conference not only helps with research justification, but the presentation itself enables you to be questioned and criticised in a less formal format. I have presented two posters already, one at the School of Computing research student conference and one at the university conference, both with the overview of my research. I found that not many people asked about my research at the school conference but I think that was due to location and timing rather than other factors involved. I was able to chat about my research at the university conference a lot which gave me the opportunity to discuss reasons behind my research, the theoretical framework (which was welcomed by my audience), the methods and also the applications of my research. I was questioned frequently by people in the Business School and Employment Research Institute as my research ties in well with their research themes, but they were quite shocked to find I was not based there and where my research came from. It was good for me to receive unplanned questions, such as the effect the recession might have on the training aspects of my research and explore how my research relates to research currently being one within the workplace learning and educational context which I enjoyed talking about quite a lot. I also (wonderfully) got to meet the person behind the ERI twitter page, where he made the point of telling me that he knew I retweeted a lot of the ERI research tweeted.  I am hoping that this confidence will stick and I will be able to carry it out at the international conference I am attending in September so that I can talk about my research to leading academics. I hoping that my stage fright as it’s called does not get the better of me and that I can discus my research with both students and academics who wish to question me on it.

  1. Then the dreaded oral presentation…

As you may be aware, I hate presenting in front of other people, particularly if it is about my research and especially if it is unscripted. I think my trip to Firbush with some of the other PhD students might have proved myself wrong in one of our activities that we did. We were given the task of delivering a 5 minute unscripted oral presentation on our research. We HAD to use props from a pre-prepared box and it HAD to be delivered to the general audience. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to that! Anyway, I really surprised myself with what I was able to provide and how much I enjoyed it. I was able to explain my research quite confidently, and use all props necessary. I am not a naturally confident person but because I knew that the audience were not here to criticise me then I just

Firbush prize
First place prize at Firbush for best oral presentation – awarded to Lyndsey Jenkins.

carried on as normal. Half way through I forgot my words, but instead of stopping, I just talked about something new I had found out and asked a question to the audience. This gave me a few seconds to prepare my next part and meant I was able to continue talking about my research without people knowing I had missed a massive portion out. I am really pleased I took part in this as it helped me see that presentations don’t have to be scary and don’t have to be hard. The audience even felt that my presentation was quite good and nominated me for joint first place winner of the prize, something that I thought was quite impossible.

Later this week comes the times that I dread, doing an oral presentation in front of my own research group and then other staff and PhD students at iDocQ. I am hoping that it okay and that all of my preparation time pays off, but our research group so have a good way to enable students to practice conference presentations before actual delivery which I quite like. This then allows us to get feedback to hopefully improve our game with the aim of ensuring that we are on top form at conference presentations. I am hoping that the dry-run of my presentation will help me work on building up my confidence even further and that I can put into practice everything I have read and understood of what makes a presentation understandable and appropriate.

More details on my 20×20 will follow in my blog post on the product of iDocQ!:-)

The Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences – Summer School!

name tag
Free stationary!

This week I have been out of the office for 3 days out of the 5. I have been attending some training specifically designed for PhD students, with the focus on the social science (but not limited to disciplines of those who can apply to attend). The three day training course was a summer school held by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences who facilities funding, training and support for students undertaking PhD’s in the social science area.

This was a really good opportunity for me to get some actual PhD relevant training under my belt and I was really looking forward to meeting other PhD students within the same discipline and those who are not studying in the same area. I was able to meet other PhD students studying very social science subjects but there were also one or two from biologically driven and business background so it was nice to explore their research topics too. The programme of training classes was quite varied, and we could only register for those that we could physically fit into the three days. Therefore I chose two half day training sessions and two full day training sessions to make up my three day training frenzy.

Day 1 consisted of me attending two workshop training sessions: When Methods Meet and also Getting real about data: interviews and I chose these based on my own personal interests as well as what I felt would benefit my research.

The morning session was great and provided me with insight into two research methods

View from session 1 (day 1)

which can be used together in research. These were survey and citizens juries. I had never heard of the latter before so it was good to see how another method could be used in the research context. It was a very practical session with us getting to hold our own citizens jury and participate in different things to get a feel of how the method works. Initially, our speakers explained a little at out each method and how they can be used in research (to give us some contextual background). They used the example of windfarms to explain how the two methods can be used to explore this phenomena as debates are ongoing onto whether people are for or against windfarm development. Anyway, we then proceeded to our practical session where we (the jury) heard evidence from our evidence givers on either side of the argument (our presenters). We then proceeded to discuss the issue, opinions and facts within our citizen’s jury which included a group facilitator (our presenters) who helped our conversation flow as well as maintaining a set direction. Now like many others, I had no idea about what a citizen’s jury was or even its purpose so you can find some more information here. The jury are there to deliberate about a set topic / question but do not come to a yes / no answer. Instead, they discuss opinions and agree an answer to a set question posed by the researcher which allows the researcher to gain further insight into the opinions discussed and reasons behind doing so. It was also really good to hear that citizens juries are often there to help make decisions and influence policy, something my research will be doing (hopefully). However, when one of our presenters explained the cost of holding just one citizens jury I know this method would not suit my research, or my budget. At the end of our session, our presenters discussed pro’s and con’s to the methods and explored how surveys and citizens juries can be used in one. It was good to see a practical example of how research methods can be mixed and has given me some thought as to what I can do for my own research methodology itself.

I found the second session of the day (Getting real about data: interviews’) particularly intriguing. The session focused a lot on walking interviews, how we undertake them and the practicalities of doing so. Our first task was to find a partner and carry out a short walking interview, discussing our next progress reviews as topic of conversation. As a group, we were able to see how walking interviews work. They are often used when the environment needs to interact with the research or when the environment can impact results taken. They are also used as a comfort method for those who are not at ease in the interview situation as it enables participants to chat to researchers in a less formal way, but still have the structure and flow of an interview. We then moved on to looking at some creative visual methods. Now these are creative methods used to help s collect data, so looking at things like photography and visual objects that can be used to help participants explain the things they want to and add physical context. One of our tasks was to draw out

ice breaker dots
Ice breaker activity (day 2)

our relationships between home / work / study and then to explain this to our partners. In our eventual group of 4, we all had different interpretations and different drawings. We were also asked to use playdough to explain the relationship we have with our supervisors which for me, was not an easy task. My fellow PhD student, however, did a fabulous job and tweeted about her creativities. You can see my supervisors tweet when she realised what our task was and how we got on. I can happily say my model was not photographable and I maintain the stance that I could not fully represent the relationship between my supervisor and I as it is so complex… (excuses really!)…

Day 2 comprised a full day of statistics!! Well technically not proper statistics, more on how to visually represent data and communicate it to a variety of audiences in the session called Data visualisation and statistical communication. Now this session was great as it was hosted by a Lecturer in Quantitative methods and also a graphic designer, two areas that are important in statistical communication. We took part in an ice breaker activity designed to help us mingle and get to know each other. It turns out, covering each other in sticky dots is quite fun and we got to keep these as souvenirs! The morning was something I had not really thought of before and explored the deign aspects around visual communication. These were principles of design to help the researcher communicate data in a way that was visually representable of the data itself and also understandable to the audience. We were then asked to complete a series of tasks to solidify our learning of this knowledge. We played card games and Pictionary to understand the concepts further as well as analyse some charts to see if we could spot the principles within the data presented. I quite like this way of learning – being information of the information and then using the information to help us create knowledge. For me, the application of information is a key aspect of knowledge production. I now understand the principles of design but also know about how these can be applied to practical settings and have lots of resources to help me with this when the time comes in my PhD. The afternoon faired with the same structure but this time we learned principles of statistical communication – basically what to do to present your data statistically with the least fuss possible. I know after 4 years of statistics training, this never gets old and it is always important to understand about statistical communication for those who have never researched or learned about it before.

Statistical communication via Lego

It’s great being able to do all the statistical data analysis in the world but if you cannot communicate it to your audience and tell them what you have found then I kind of question the point. We spent the remainder of the afternoon building statistical representations of data out of Lego and seeing how well we could explain our ‘findings’ in terms of practical objects. This seemed to work okay!

Day 3 was a full day of Strategic Ethnographies. We heard our guest speakers (Professor Robin Williams) talk about some of this research and how the ethnographic approach has been used. He gave us a brief introduction to the method and some of the challenges before we heard Professor Sampsa Hyysalo (via Skype in Finland I do believe!) talk about his research in terms of how strategic ethnographies can be used and what he has done with the method so far. We also listened to Dr Mozaffar Hajar who told us about how her research (on innovations in the workplace) used the strategic ethnographic to track the development of innovations over time across different sites. It was good to hear both internal and external researchers discuss this as I was not really sure what the method was in the first place. They explained research topics that have used the method to explore research questions and did explain that innovation and social learning have both been included. This kind of got me thinking about my own research – workplace learning and innovation and whether  using strategic ethnography would be a suitable approach. My initial gut reaction would be a ‘no’ as I am not looking at events changing over time or cross-culturally, however, using different techniques within the method may help me explore my own research questions further. For me, this is something that I am looking into right now, the most appropriate methodologies to use and why (including the research paradigm). The session has prompted me to look into strategic ethnographies a little further so that I can justify my choice whether or not I would use in as part of my PhD.

We then delivered our ‘One Minute Madness’ presentations, similar to the one I did at the School of Computing research student conference in May and my fellow student, Iris, tweeted the one I did! This was a great opportunity to see the research topics of other students and the varied nature of each research project. It turns out that no-one else is researching workplace learning or innovation but I don’t think any research topic was actually the same, which was nice. After lunch we were able to explore problems within our PhD’s in terms of theories, methodology and also ethics. It was good to hear that other students are currently facing the problems that I will be encountering so I was able to note down some sound advice form them all so that I know what to do. One prominent point that came up form discussions was the role of the supervisor. We often forget that our supervisors are there to help us form the basic things of design to more complicated matters of ethics. We discussed how supervisors sometimes have knowledge of their own subjects that overlap with our topics and may have met others in the area who can help us in terms of things like data collection. For example, if I was struggling to get organisations on board for my research, I could ask my second supervisor who already researches and works within the employment area and will have various contacts who I can get in touch with.

And that was that The session ended my three day summer school training sessions and enabled me to see how important sessions like this are. More importantly, the training showed me that there are a lot of diverse topics being researched at the moment, but it is often the student experiences that overlap and being us together whilst we travel through the research journey. Networking opportunities such as the summer school are vital to keep us going, firstly to realise that we are not alone in the problems we are facing and secondly to know that our individual research journey is not actually an individual journey at all.

The beginning of the Philosophy bit…

IMG_0583As part of my research degree, I need to understand quite a bit about the philosophy of science and what this mean in terms of the research methods I choose. Now when I first found out I needed to know this I was rather confused, thinking why on earth is this relevant? I thought that I would be looking into really random things like the meaning of life and how we came to live etc, and wondered what this had to do with a PhD. I am so glad my understanding of this was wrong!

To understand everything further, I first looked into what Philosophy of Science ACTUALLY was and now I understand it a little more. The Philosophy of Science is a branch of philosophy concerned with science foundations and implications of science as well as methods used to study science (Rosenberg, 2012). Although philosophy and science are separate entities, the Philosophy of Science questions the purpose of science, determinants of science and also analyses the reliability of scientific theory. I will whole-heartedly admit that I had to begin with Wikipedia first of all, just to grasp concept meanings and what things involve. For me, this helps a lot. To gain a basic understand of what I need to study then helps me to understand requirements for my further research and helps me to understand everything overall.

Anyway, I found out that Philosophy of Science is quite important. Philosophy helps us to understand why some scientific questions just cannot be answered with science, and gives insight into how they may be answered. Yes, there are some questions that can be answered by science but philosophy helps us to understand approaches in determine ow to answer those questions which have not got answers just yet. One thing that philosophy can do is help us address approaches to answering questions, and this can include the discipline it is in and the methodology. If we get these right, then we are well on the way to answering such questions in science but if we get these wrong then we need to readdress our approach and start again. We can then analyse methods and the philosophy can help to validate methods used in other disciplines, so that these can be used to answer scientific questions that have been found difficult to answer.

There are many approaches to the development of theory in science and I read a book by Lazer (1998) which has helped me understand the whole thing. The book was quite an old book but it was the only one that included what I needed to read and helped me understood historical approaches to the development of theory more generally, before getting into the nitty gritty of things. The book explained the approaches by three Philosophers: Karl Popper (1902-1994), Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) and Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994). All three had different approaches to how scientific theory is created and I can let you into some of my newly found knowledge now.

Karl Popper did not believe that induction was a valid method of scientific enquiry. He criticised other philosophers who believed this and explained that theory based on induction made from observations cannot be valid. Popper explained that induction cannot be an ecologically valid driver of theory as it suggests applying all observational and inferences to all occurrences. If theory is based on observations, we cannot truly know if other observations (not yet observed) would differ from those already observed. If observations not yet made differ from those made, then the theory can be classified as invalid as the observations would not match what the theory states. Popper argues that scientific processes are possible because scientists seek theory with greater scope. He believed that real science comes from theories that can be refuted – debated and replaced if proved wrong. If scientist make discoveries that dispute and criticised theories, these theories can be updated and replaced, making the theory better to explain the phenomenon at hand.

Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) argued against Popper and suggested that mature or real sciences are explained through ‘paradigms’. These are the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. Unlike Popper, Kuhn believes that theory is not constantly criticised and updated, but that scientific revolutions occur instead. Kuhn believed scientific revolutions are conversion of experiences rather than rational processes. Exchanging belief systems defines conceptual and methodological practices from the newly created paradigms, replacing older paradigms with newly formed one. However, Kuhn was criticised as his approach ignored theoretical diversity and failed to acknowledge individual differences, a critique addressed by another philosopher Paul Feyerabend.

Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994) critiques Kuhn’s idea of the ‘normal science’.  Feyerabend believes that science has no single scientific method as each have their limitations and one would not be enough to explore and justify a theory. Feyerabend expresses the importance of individual, their intellectual ability theoretical diversity, explaining that restrictions would be places on scientific theory if the individual was not considered. From this, he believed that science theory benefits from theoretical anarchism whereby theory is defined by self-governed actual individuals within the society and their own characteristics. Something about this struck me as it was one of the first approaches to consider the individual, an area of research which is going to be relevant to me at some point in my journey.

It was quite good to know that there have been a lot of opposing views in history and this underpins the basis of my further reading. Although not strictly related to my research methodology, I needed to understand approaches in science and how theory is derived so that I could read further into the philosophical approaches of research methodology. I did not really how philosophy related to research study until I found something called a Research Hierarchy (Pickard, 2002, 2013). The research hierarchy is kind of a model to help explain how philosophy relates to choosing the right methodology and the diagram below explains just that:

RH image(Diagram created by me using Pickard, 2002, 2013).

The model helped me understand how a philosophical approach (or research paradigm) can eventually influence a researcher’s choice of method to answer their research questions. All research begins with a psychological paradigm regardless of its philosophical content directly. Each point on the diagram is explained below to help understand the processes involved.

a) Research paradigms have previously been defined as collections of beliefs, values and techniques shared by the scientific community and are ways of viewing and influencing the world, but not controlling directions of research itself (Kuhn, 1970, 146). They help researchers explain their approach to solving a given problem and may influence the research methodology used. The research methodology can be seen as the theoretical perspective of the research itself and is the overall nature of the research itself applied to the research process The research methodology will be dependent on the research paradigm which gives perspectives on how knowledge is acquired and how we view the world (perception on reality). These views will determine how the research questions will be explored in terms of how knowledge will be gained during the investigation. Now there are many different approached including the positivist and constructivist but I am not going to go into detail here as this will be the next part of my methodology research and I am not quite there yet.

b) (The research method is the researcher’s strategy to employ empirical investigation – how they are going to answer the questions. This includes how the research is going to collect data, such as carrying out a case study, and will be determined by the focus of the study. If the researcher requires details on why a phenomena occurs, they may opt for a qualitative methodology whereby methods like case studies and interviews are the most appraise strategies for data collection.

c) Depending on the research method used, the research method can then imply research technique which are data collection techniques embedded within the research method.  Quite often, researchers may confuse terminology overlapping research method and research techniques. A well-known example I the use of the terminology of ‘survey’ and ‘questionnaire’ whereby the survey is the research method and the ‘questionnaire’ would be the physical entity used to collect data itself.

d) Research design should have flexibility in order to establish adequate answers to research questions without limiting research discovery. It might seen a little vague to explain that researchers need to sue the right instruments to collect data, but if the right research techniques are not addressed then the instrument may not be planned for… and it is the instrument that would provide the biggest mishap in data collection if not available at the time of need.

So overall, I found that explanation quite useful. Firstly, it helped me understand why we need research philosophy and how the research paradigm sets the parameters for the progression of the research itself. It’s important to understand how research paradigms can shape research methodology but as mentioned above, there is so much more to explore.  The philosophical approach used in research is also determined by several assumptions regarding ontology (the composition of reality), epistemology (how knowledge is acquired), and human nature, ultimately influencing the choice of methodology (Holden & Lynch, 2004, p.3). A research paradigm does not imply a methodology, rather it is the individuals view on the world  and knowledge that dictates the nature of the research and how the researcher engages with the research process (Pickard, 2013, p.xvii).

This will, indeed, be the next step in my challenge to find the best research approach and methodology to answer my research questions.


Kuhn, T.S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Pickard, A. (2002) Access to electronic information resources: their role in the provision of learning opportunities for young people. A constructivist inquiry. Doctoral thesis, University of Northumbria. Available at

Pickard, A.J. (2013). Research Methods in Information (2nd Ed.). London, UK: Facet Publishing.

Rosenberg, A. (2012). Philosophy of Science: A contemporary Introduction (3rd ed.). New York, USA: Routledge.