Am I a Researcher?

Unsure whether a final year research project or dissertation is for you? Interested in creative ways to build your skills and confidence for employers? Want more than just to be told what knowledge is important? To see how students can drive and shape their own learning experience at Warwick, Katie explores the possibilities and opportunities in research for taught students…

Since starting my Masters at Warwick last year, I’ve become very aware of labels imposed on us by the University, and what status that brings. I am a PGT – a taught postgraduate student. This means I share some characteristics and privileges with undergraduates (such as what group study rooms I can book in the Learning Grids) and some with PhD students – such as the privilege of using the postgraduate hub space, but not ReX – the Research Exchange.

The label of being a “taught” student comes with all sorts of connotations, not in the least that my experience as either an undergraduate or Masters student is different to students who are undertaking research.

However, I feel that research is central to my learning. As a creative writer, research informs my work on a daily basis. Although the things I need to research – such as the weather in Devon in July 1997, or the episode guides for the TV show Neighbours that summer – aren’t academic in a traditional sense, they are essential to the 20,000 words I will be submitting for assessment this year.

I have been involved in a project looking at how to widen participation in research at Warwick – the wrap project – especially for undergraduate students who don’t have access to research activities through their degree course. Whilst there is some excellent practice across the university, in terms of research as learning for taught students, it’s also easy for students like me to miss out on that all together. In my undergraduate degree here, I didn’t have to do a dissertation, for example, and the assessed essays I did were very much driven by my course content rather than independent study.  I didn’t realise how much of an opportunity I was passing on. The evidence is clear that exposure to research opportunities can enhance both grades and outcomes for students (including employability).

However, as I got more into my MA, my aspirations changed. Partly because as writers, we have been empowered to undertake the research needed for our writing, and given support to use the library’s wide range of resources and dedicated staff support in creative ways; partly due to learning about the kinds of research my fellow writers have to do for their pieces. I broadened my understanding of what research is, and my confidence to do it.

For the first time ever, last year I started to think that maybe a PhD is an option for me. I’d always assumed it was for scientists in labs or students who get firsts without trying. But increasingly there are PhDs cropping up that push the boundaries of research. My proposal explores the role of feminist theory alongside memoir, and how writers can use different kinds of academic research and practice in narrative non-fiction. I even had fun writing it. I would not have come up with the idea for the book I want to write without my time at university, and exposure to different types of research and application.

I wish that some of the opportunities now available to undergraduate students had been around when I was first here (we’re going back some years). I would have been keen to make the most of them, for example, the IATL student research grants or the annual Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS) – I might have found my path a lot earlier. Instead, I am just going to embrace this new identity and take the plunge into a “research” career as a writer.

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