Research facilities (RFs) and their staff play a key role in postgraduate education.
The results of a recent Sheffield MEd dissertation research study provide strong evidence to support this and show that RFs and their staff have a huge impact on postgraduate education.
As part of her MEd dissertation, the research facility (RF) manager Dr Adelina E Acosta Martin has studied the contribution that RFs in the Faculty of Science make to education. Adelina has been managing the proteomics area of the biOMICS Biological Mass Spectrometry Facility at the University of Sheffield over the last 4 years.
The project, presumably the first of its kind, originates from the observations of her daily activities in the facility: “Most RF users are PhD students and I spend a significant amount of time explaining things to them instead of doing actual research.
"I wanted to know what the value of managing the RF from an educational perspective was, and whether I was the only RF manager taking this approach or other colleagues in the Faculty were doing the same.
"Many academics and colleagues in management positions think that RFs mostly work in service mode and that we interact a lot with industry to generate income, but there is another reality in our work” explains Adelina.
According to the study, gathering information from 10 RFs in the Faculty of Science, 5% of trained RF users are UG students and 72% are PG students, from which around 87% are PhD students.
From the PhD student population responding to a questionnaire about their use of RFs:
- 92% considered RFs to be very important for their research projects because they could not carry on with their projects without the use of these RFs,
- 69% considered the support of RF staff to be very important because they provide essential support and guidance throughout the process,
- and 64% considered that using RFs is very important for their professional future as they have learnt a lot of useful research/technical skills that they can develop in future positions.
PhD students are the major group of research human capital in the Faculty, and we need to make sure that they have access, not only to the best research environments, but also to the best education. The study shows the potential of RFs as perfect places to become synergistic nests of research and PG education.
Dr Adelina E Acosta Martin
Biological Mass Spectrometry Facility Manager
“The impact of our work goes beyond Faculty, as 21% of trained users are from other Faculties in the University, including Engineering; Medicine, Dentistry and Health; and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
"The study shows that we are involved in the one-to-one training of a significant amount of PhD students and other users, who are aware of and value our educational role within a research environment. PhD students are the major group of research human capital in the Faculty, and we need to make sure that they have access, not only to the best research environments, but also to the best education.
"The study shows the potential of RFs as perfect places to become synergistic nests of research and PG education.”
When addressing the relevance of the data, Adelina explains with enthusiasm what new opportunities the study will bring: “It is difficult to be recognised in training and teaching if you are non-academic staff, and without recognition it is difficult to progress and improve things.
"With these results, we can increase the visibility of our work and we can ask for professional development opportunities to improve our educational skills. It is also an opportunity for understanding and re-thinking what RFs are for and the value they have at the University.
"For example, the financial model used to run RFs doesn’t take into account this piece of information and we must include it if we want to have a sustainable future for RFs.”
RF staff participating in the study. From left to right: Heather Walker, Simon Thorpe, Lydia Kiesel, Svet Tzokov, Debbie Hammond, Rob Hanson, and Adelina. Missing in the photo: Craig Robertson, Chris Hill, Andrea Hounslow, Samuel Dix and John Rafferty.
“It has been an incredibly rewarding experience” she says about leading the project. “I am so thankful for the contribution of RF staff participating in the study! It has been like having an open inner dialogue with them, a well-coordinated team work. I managed to finish the MEd within two years, and they are also responsible for that!” and she smiles widely.
“My line manager, Pr Carl Smythe, and my MEd supervisor, Dr Tim Herrick, together with my husband, have been the endless sources of precious support for the project that I needed to make it happen and keep it alive after submission.”
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