Anne has taught in a wide variety of adult education settings for the last ten years and is currently an Essential Skills Project Leader. From 2008 until 2010, she completed a postgraduate Master of Arts in Education degree with the Open University.
‘Research’ - sounds impressive doesn’t it? However the idea of carrying out a research project fills me simultaneously with excitement, fear and self-doubt. So many questions. How am I going to do this? How will I find the time? What if I’m not good enough? It is a tough task to rise to the challenge of undertaking research as a busy educational professional. Juggling work, study and family commitments is never easy, but I suppose that is the point. At least it is for me. Just as adventurers who push themselves to the limits of endurance to climb to the top of the mountain or into the depths of the Antarctic, I like to test my own boundaries and challenge myself.
We are constantly being told that education is not a research-based profession and that it would be far better if it was (Hargreaves, 2007). I can only vouch for my own experience. I strongly believe that undertaking research related to the way that I teach and evaluating the effectiveness of projects that I am involved with, is essential; stepping back from the everyday and allowing the opportunity for me to think. Surely, reflecting upon and regularly questioning my teaching practice should lead to a better experience for my learners.
I am fully aware that I am in my infancy as an educational researcher. The feedback I receive from my supervisors has really helped me, however, to improve my writing and question more analytically what I read. Now I will ask questions and take critical notes. How reliable is this article? How valid are these statistics?
Is there an inherent bias?
Starting out in my post-graduate research journey, I have come to the following three conclusions:
1. Choose a topic of real interest to you.
You are going to be spending a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about your research project. It will probably take over your life. If you’re just starting out, enjoy the opportunity to research a topic that is of particular interest to you. I have been informed that this may not be the case later on in your career, so enjoy the experience.
2. Be persistent and resilient
It’s a cliché, but it really is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times when you feel like you can’t possibly look at your research and you question why you ever started. Sometimes the process of immersion in research can be addictive and sometimes it can be a slog. Personally I am very good at procrastination and avoidance. Suddenly have an urge to clean behind your fridge, rather than sit at the laptop and write? Been there and bought the T-shirt. There may well be set-backs along the way and I think that is part of the process.
3. Get support
Did I say this? It will probably take over your life. You will need the support of others. See if you can negotiate funding, time off or alter your working hours from your employer in order to undertake your research project. If you’re not that lucky (and even if you are), talk to your family and friends and make sure they understand you may not be as readily available as you were and sacrifices may need to be made. Undertaking a research project can be an isolating experience, so get involved and put yourself out there. Spend some time attending networking events, seminars and conferences, to share ideas. With the help of the internet, it has never been easier to find others in a similar situation or working in the same field as yourself.
Good luck with all your research endeavours!
Hargreaves, D. (2007), Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects (the teacher training agency lecture 1996), in P. Hammersley, ed., ‘Educational Research and Evidence-Based Practice’, Published in Association with the Open University, Sage Publications: Los Angeles; London), chapter 1, pp. 3–17.