Attending the Research Festival 2017

In March, I helped deliver the 2017 Research Festival, staged jointly by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. Here’s some of my recollections of the day’s sessions.

Although I regularly enjoy attending a wide range of talks, sessions, and seminars – in subjects often far from my ‘home’ discipline of Journalism – I might not necessarily have come to the Research Festival, were it not for my involvement with it through the SALT scheme.

I’ve always seen myself as a practical, applied student, rather than one grounded in ‘academia’. Research has sometimes seemed a little ‘above me’; I know that it does not feature as heavily in my course as it does in most others.

That said, having attended most of the sessions (largely out of curiosity, added to the fact I was down at the Festival anyway), I was delighted to take away several valuable insights and experiences.

I found the Dissertations session very useful, particularly in light of my upcoming SURE project. Dr Andrew Bell, of the Sheffield Methods Institute, discussed typical pitfalls of research proposals. He talked of the need to strike a balance when developing theses: if too broad, research will lack focus; if developed too heavily, it is all too tempting to disregard findings until they match the expected outcomes. His talk noted the differences between proposals for qualitative and quantitative research — concepts with which I was unfamiliar (or certainly, not fully confident) prior to attending the Festival.

As I do not see myself pursuing a research-based future, I did not expect to gain much from the Employability session. Yet much of the seminar discussed transferable skills, and it made me think about the research methods that could apply to investigative journalism, for instance.

The Digital Humanities showcase demonstrated a number of computer-science based techniques for conducting partially-automated research. Dr James O’Sullivan described his fascinating work analysing Irish literature, especially that of James Joyce. Using freely-available online tools, narratives can be assessed for similarities and key themes. It is also possible to look for anomalies in texts of unknown authorship. O’Sullivan mentioned the need to ‘clean up’ source data first, so that conclusions can be drawn more easily. I found this session particularly interesting as it seemed to cross the two stems of quantitative and qualitative research.

I was thrilled to be involved with the student presentations of undergraduate research, sitting in on the third Social Sciences session as a judge. All of the research, on subjects ranging from EU policy to India’s culture of sexual violence, was ambitious in its scope but well-presented. It was good to see the undergraduate presenters taking pride in discussing their work — and inspired me to think more seriously about a future research-based project.

Joe Twyman’s fast-paced, funny, but surprisingly detailed, history of research had the audience in stitches

Joe Twyman, the YouGov pollster, closed the Research Festival with an entertaining keynote address: a lively and enjoyable presentation discussing the evolution of research. I was especially taken by Twyman’s theories for why web polling (like that conducted by his organisation) is more accurate than earlier methods; that people are more likely to be truthful about their voting intentions when not declaring to a human being.

I found the day very enjoyable, and surprised myself with how much I took away from the sessions.

There were plenty of opportunities for networking built into the day, with students mixing from many departments

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