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First impressions as a visiting researcher in Victoria, Australia  1

Last week I was in Melbourne to join researchers from two different universities, namely the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. An aim of my visit was to present my research findings and to learn about Higher Education and Medical Education in Victoria. Upon arriving in Melbourne I found I was in the right place to meet this goal, at least that’s been said on most license plates (‘Victoria – The education state).

The first thing I’ve learned is that student admission to Higher Education is quite different in Australia. In contrast to Dutch secondary education, there are no central school exams before going into university. Australian universities use students’ Australian Tertiary Admission Rank-score (ATAR), in which grades and subjects are combined to determine each student’s score. For example, if students get an ATAR of 80 it means that they outperform 80 per cent of students. Practically speaking, this might encourage students to choose their subjects strategically in order to be admitted to the best universities. In addition, admission requirements differ between universities which means that science, for instance, is not a required subject to study medicine. I don’t know yet what this means for students’ prior knowledge and how teaching staff goes about this when students start studying at university.

La Trobe University is a 50-year old university, a teaching-intensive university in the beginning although nowadays a research-intensive university. Students from the faculty of humanities are engaged in research in education in, for instance, the Hallmark program in their second undergraduate year. Within this program students conduct research projects in small groups with the duration of one year. The research projects are typically multidisciplinary, which provides challenges for the staff members supervising the projects, since they are used to research within their discipline. I was invited to present a study on fostering student learning in research supervision. This presentation was live at four other campuses through video streaming, which was quite an experience. Afterwards we’ve discussed how to enhance student learning in research within a limited amount of curriculum time. A different issue at La Trobe is students having difficulties understanding the English language. Students at La Trobe are from diverse cultural backgrounds, which has implications for promoting student learning.

The University of Melbourne is the oldest research-intensive university of Australia and I was invited to present at a research group meeting of the (bio)medical school. What I got from this is that the role of research in Medical Education isn’t as clear as we might think. So there is still some work to do (and this comment is useful for the introduction and discussion chapter of my thesis J ). It could be helpful to think about how research integration could prepare students for clinical work, building upon studies into other clinical roles (e.g., health advocate, communicator, scholar) as these roles are often not too appealing for students during education. Furthermore, we’ve discussed how to integrate research into undergraduate medical education. At the University of Melbourne there are generally no research activities in the undergraduate learning environment, except for the final year when students are expected to conduct an individual research project. This could hamper a positive student learning experience and learning outcomes.

The discussions in both universities might have implications for Higher Education as well as Medical Education. Our shared experiences indicate that further studies are needed to clarify what learning goals medical education aims for integrating research in teaching. Furthermore, our experiences illustrate that it is not that straigthforward to integrate research in learning activities in a way that promotes student learning.

Thanks to Hannah Schuerholz, Jan van Driel, David Clarke, Liz Malloy and all others being so generous with their time, comments and support. I had a great time in Melbourne. For the next two weeks I’ll be visiting Susan Howitt at the Australian National University in Canberra.

 

Small is beautiful: enjoy a national conference  0

The Onderwijs Research Dagen (ORD) took place in Rotterdam from Wednesday May 25th until Friday May 27th. I have made some progress towards graduation since the beginnings of my project in 2013 (time is flying!). I still feel that this national conference is a great learning experience for me as a PhD. Generally speaking, national conferences have some advantages for novice researchers in comparison with the larger ones abroad. Here’s why I’m enthusiastic about national conferences.

 

The very beginning: attend the preconference

The ORD (as other conferences) has preconference workshops tailored towards learning needs of PhD’s in Belgium and the Netherlands. Topics include academic writing, managing your supervisors, writing grant proposals and preparing your defense. I’ve visited similar sessions at international conferences as well. However, preconference workshops in a national conference pay specific attention to the Dutch and Flemish contexts, which directly apply to our educational context. Where else would you learn to avoid writing Dunglish with your peers?

 

Opportunities to close a gap with educational practice

Some might feel that educational research has a strong focus on theory. This may not always resonate with teaching experiences in practice. My experiences are that at a national conference you’ll meet more teachers, policy makers or educational managers than you would at a large conference. This means you could further discuss the practical relevance of your work. It also might help you to explore perspectives for your life after PhD.

 

Share the good stuff

When you’re designing your studies it can be very helpful to join a national conference, even without presenting. Chances are that presentations inspire you to use instruments and methods which are developed to suit the Dutch educational context. This makes it easy for you to join discussions during the conference, since you’re familiar with education in the Netherlands (sometimes I find it hard to immediately understand studies in foreign contexts) and to relate this to your own project. This could also provide opportunities to work together with colleagues relatively nearby.

 

Prevent yourself from being thrown in at the deep end

Besides a limited travel time to a national conference, it is nice to hear about topics being investigated in other institutes. This helped me, as a novice, to grasp the width of the field (here: higher education) without being overwhelmed by the amount of presentations. My studies are about research integrated into teaching at university which is also emphasized in Dutch universities of applied sciences. I’ve learned a lot about this at conferences as the ORD. Moreover, it is very likely that you’re able to go to a national conference annually within your PhD. This enables you to keep up with each other over a longer period of time.

 

For these reasons I would say that ‘the larger the party, the better’ has nothing to do with the number of people invited! Here you can read about Saskia’s experiences attending an international conference. Thank you for reading this blog!

Keep that fire burning!  2

It has been one and a half year ago since I have started my PhD research project and although most of the time I’m in a flow, fully enjoying the work, some challenges I face along the way will prevent me from keeping the fire burning. As Anna van der Want has shown in her blogpost humor can be helpful in dealing with struggles that come along in a research project. In this blogpost I present four ideas that can brighten up your days as a PhD-student, which I’ve found during a symposium of the PhD-network from the Netherlands Educational Research Association (VPO) last week.

 

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon a group of Dutch PhD’s gathered in Den Bosch to hear not just any story about being successful in PhD-life from experienced professionals in PhD supervision and planning. Especially Joseph Kessels’ story will help me when I’m in need of a research related energy boost, since he shed light on two sides of becoming a researcher. He came up with some realizations that can help PhD-students to be proud of your work even when you lost the spark for a while.

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