New perspectives, inspiring possibilities: a research student’s view on the 2nd CREST Summer School

We are delighted to share the reflections of PhD student Sonia Hutchison on the 2nd CREST Summer School which she attended last week (7th-8th September 2015). Sonia is studying at the University of Cumbria, having followed her supervisor across most of the UK. Like many PhD students at CREST members, Sonia studies part-time, juggling her research with a demanding job, and is based quite a distance away from her institution. 

“I am on the train home from the CREST Summer School and thought there is no better time than to write a blog than whilst the experience is fresh in my mind. I heard about the CREST Summer School from my institution’s newsletter and thought it sounded like an interesting opportunity. I applied, and was really pleased to hear than I was successful in gaining a place. Before the summer school started I was asked to send in a quick summary of my research. Luckily the University of Cumbria also runs a good summer school which helps us to communicate out research succinctly so I briefly edited something I had written during that and sent it in.

Closer to the date I received the research summaries from the other participants, which helped me gain an understanding of the diversity of the research interests of the group. I was excited by the variety as I find it interesting to hear from people researching in different areas. I find it gets me thinking and introduces me to new ideas and ways of approaching research.

My university were supportive and booked my accommodation for me so I was able to stay in the LSE halls on the same road as the CREST headquarters. At breakfast, not knowing anyone, I could only think to myself that ‘wherever I sit I’m bound to be sitting with someone from the Summer School’, but I found myself drawn to the flight of the refugees pouring out of Syria rather than start a conversation. Sure enough, when I got to Woburn House the first person I saw was the person opposite me at breakfast. We got talking about where we were from and our research. As more people arrived I continued finding out about people’s research and being able to link faces to the summaries I’d read.

Sonia Hutchison

“I’d recommend the Summer School to any doctoral student – you won’t be disappointed and I’ll be looking out for what more CREST can offer me” Sonia Hutchison, PhD student, University of Cumbria.

The Summer School was really well organised with opportunities to network and find out about our colleagues. We heard from excellent speakers and CREST made the most of the excellent resources on the doorstep.

The morning session included a panel of expert speakers, all from organisations I had not come across before. Nesta, UnLtd and the Design Museum gave fascinating talks about their excellent resources and eagerness to support our research, and the potential business opportunities we may have coming out of our research.

After hearing from the panel and posing questions, we had the opportunity to talk about our own research and the speakers stayed on to offer their expertise. We not only found out about each others research but gleaned help and support from each other’s experience.

After lunch we walked to the Wellcome Library. I found this a fantastic part of the Summer School: not only did we gain input from great speakers but we visited speakers in situ at amazing places that had so much to offer and that I didn’t know existed. At the Wellcome we were told about the amazing collections they hold and, helpfully, how much is online – I’m not based in London so visiting will be a rare treat.

We were also joined by a speaker from the Wellcome Trust who introduced us to the grants programme. I had never considered trying to gain a grant for my research as it is quite niche and unusual. I had assumed funders like Wellcome would only be interested in research using traditional methodologies. I will definitely be considering putting in a small grant application with a view to considering larger applications if I am successful. My preconceptions were well and truly swept away.

We had time to wander through the library and to see the impressive building before we headed out for an excellent meal. At dinner we were highly entertained by Brian Lobel, a Wellcome Public Engagement Fellow based at University of Chichester, who, if I still had any doubts left, made me sure my research was not too unusual – Brian’s unconventional, challenging, and brilliant style of research clearly had their full support.

Day two kicked off with a talk from the British Library and, as with the Wellcome Trust and Collections, I found out so much about what is freely available. I was really pleased to hear how much content is online, enabling me to access this resource without needing to visit London. I remembered visiting the British Library as an undergraduate student many years ago and, whilst it still was the great depository, it was very much like a library, albeit a very big one. Since I’ve left London the British Library has reinvented itself. It now also offers a myriad of events and exhibits, all within a wonderful building. The online catalogues and collections make it easy to access and encourages researchers to use the hundreds and millions of books, documents, images, and sounds. Just to show how far the British Library has moved on, their presentation finished with a video complete with a soundtrack by DJ Yoda using sound clippings from the collections!

During the afternoon we were treated to an interactive workshop from the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). We were challenged to think about our purpose for public engagement, the people we were trying to engage, and the process we would use. This got me thinking about a presentation I have coming up and how to approach it using this model.

The event finished with an insight into the minds of publishers thanks to two speakers from Routledge. The ‘how-to’ of getting books and journal articles published really helped me to see the way to get published from the publishers’ perspective and demystified the whole industry. The speakers, like all who went before them, were knowledgeable, passionate about their subject, and incredibly generous with the information they provided. They even opened themselves up to critique as they asked us to compare their presentation to their top tips on verbal presentation skills. They made their subject engaging and easy to understand, leaving me thinking that perhaps I should pitch for my first book publication.

I’ve got a lot to go back and find out more about. The Summer School really gave me the chance to find out about so much, but it is just the tip of an iceberg and I’m excited to see how all this new knowledge can move my research forward. I’ve also met a whole range of doctoral students that have inspired me, and learnt what a great resource CREST can be, especially as a practitioner-researcher living hundreds of miles away from the university at which I’m studying part-time.

I’d recommend the Summer School to any doctoral student – you won’t be disappointed and I’ll be looking out for what more CREST can offer me.”

Sonia’s research uses Living Theory methodology to pose the question “How does my lived experience, from being ‘a child in care’ to being a leader of a carers’ charity, sustain the hope that we can be the change we want to see in the world?” For more information about her research, visit Sonia’s academia.edu page.