Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Introducing Esther

Yesterday I started as the new Arcadia Fellow. My aim for the next ten-weeks is to use this blog to keep the group updated with my progress and findings. I see it as a useful space to obtain comments and feedback to my ideas as they develop over the next weeks. But I thought I would begin with a brief introduction.

As introduced by John I graduated from my Economics and Management degree at the University of Oxford in 2007 before completing my Masters in Research Methods (Education) at the University of Durham in 2008. During this time I also worked as a Research Assistant within the Department of Education working on a project funded by the Teaching Development Agency.
During my Masters and through my experiences as a new research assistant, myself and a fellow PhD researcher identified flaws in the information flows for early-career researchers. Researchers have three sources of information about work done in their chosen field: published literature, conferences and their supervisor. Literature reviews, whilst essential, can only ever reveal completed work, relevant conferences do not happen every week and supervisors mostly rely on these same sources. We felt it was very easy to become overly focused on the specifics of your own work and to lose a sense of what other related work is currently being done, especially by other early-career researchers. We also noticed that very distinct and separate literatures and conferences exist for different subject areas despite the large overlap between some disciplines. Networking is an essential part of the research process: promoting collaboration, generating new ideas and preventing duplication of effort. Consequently, we thought it would be great if there was a common point that brought together Masters, PhD and Postdoctoral researchers from all disciplines. By making ‘Research Keywords’ rather than ‘discipline’ central to the networking process, we hoped to break down existing disciplinary boundaries so that it would be possible to find others with similar research interests regardless of which department, institutions or country they were in.

From this idea Graduate Junction was founded in May 2008. Graduate Junction is now the largest online academic network dedicated to the needs of early-career researchers, providing an opportunity to network based on research interests as well as gain peer-support on issues related to undertaking doctoral research. It is a researcher-led, self-funded initiative which we have managed alongside our own research commitments. Whilst the other co-founder, Daniel Colegate, developed the website, I was almost entirely responsible for the original growth of researcher network, the website receiving over 150,000 unique visitors, 1.5 million page views and almost 15,000 registered researchers. Graduate Junction has featured in popular press such as the Chronicle of Higher Education (US) and the Times Higher Education (UK) and has been presented at a number of events, including at the Vitae Annual 2009 Conference. We have had a number of volunteers and recently Summer Interns from within the community who have help develop and promote Graduate Junction to whom we are very grateful. We have been overwhelmed by the responses we have had from researchers, academic staff and testimonials from Graduate Schools, which motivates us to continue, despite the severe lack of resources, to provide this opportunity for our peers.

Over the last 18 months I have become very interested in digital scholarship and the role of academic networks and online referencing tools. However, I have never had the opportunity to dedicate my time to investigate further. My Arcadia project proposes to investigate the information needs of early-career researchers and investigate particularly whether research masters and first year PHDs, require different and potentially additional support from University Library Services to help them develop efficient methods of searching and handling information resources in an ever progressing digital age.

Despite the last 18 months being heavily involved in the online community, I am still relatively new to blogging and hope to develop this skill during the project so watch this space.........

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