Developing as a Researcher by Doing Meaningful Research: Report on the Second Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2014)
D. P. Dash
Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
Ismail Ait Saadi
Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
Published Online: January 09, 2015
This article is a report on the second Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2014), held at Kuching, Malaysia, during 26-27 August 2014. This conference is part of a series initiated in 2013 to focus scholarly attention on the education and development of researchers, with a geographic focus on the Borneo region (Collins, Shamala, & Dash, 2014).
1. Research Education
The term research education, which appears in the conference title, is related to the scholarship of researcher development (Evans, 2011). The conference draws attention to this by asking how researchers are to be developed, in any field of research. The BREC conference series aims to maximise the number of perspectives and inputs on this question. As the Conference Chair, D. P. Dash stated in his welcome address, the conference welcomes researchers of all persuasions, namely scientific researchers, social researchers, artistic researchers, design researchers, and so forth--“because our focus is on you the researcher, irrespective of your discipline and field,” he clarified.
The term research education signifies a broader range of concerns than the more common term research training. The latter term generally focuses on enhancing one’s skills in using the methods and tools of doing research. In practice, the aim of research training is to enhance the technical skills of researchers so that they can design and implement procedures to answer research questions. However, it is doubtful whether this type of research training would prepare researchers for their future role in society. This is one of the key issues addressed in the BREC conferences.
In order to develop research education in the right earnest, one must start with an understanding of the environments within which researchers are going to work in future and the roles they are going to play in those environments. Aligning the development of researchers with the demands of the emerging environments would important for research education. It is to this purpose of researcher development that this conference series is devoted.
BREC Conference Series
The BREC conference series was launched in 2013 to complement the efforts of governments aimed at creating a strong research culture that could eventually facilitate the process of socioeconomic development. Developing nations have spent enormous funds on building universities and research centres equipped with up-to-date equipment and facilities. While this physical infrastructure is vital for research, it is not sufficient to produce the expected socioeconomic impact, unless researcher development is also given the necessary importance.
The BREC conference series aims at filling this gap by focusing on various facets of researcher development. Themes for BREC conferences highlight such facets, so as to prepare researchers for their role in society. The themes for 2013 and 2014 were as follows:
BREC 2013: Developing as a Researcher Through the Culture of Sharing
BREC 2014: Developing as a Researcher by Doing Meaningful Research
Unlike other conferences, the success of BREC conferences is measured not by the number of participants nor financial results. It is measured by the type of support participants receive and the overall learning value they take away with them. Section 6 below presents some of the feedback received from BREC 2014 participants, which indicate the learning value generated at the conference.
2. University-Industry Cooperation
BREC 2014 was co-convened by five universities from the Borneo region. These include two international branch campus universities and three public universities, namely:
International Branch Campus Universities
Curtin University Sarawak Campus
Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Sarawak Campus
The Guest of Honour, Anthony Cahalan (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus) observed that, during his time, research students were not lucky enough to have such forums which provide guidance and support when it is most needed. He urged participants to make full use of this opportunity to learn and progress in their work. He also reminded the audience about Malaysia’s official target of 60,000 PhD-holders by the year 2023. He urged the participating universities to ask: What kind of PhD-holders does the country need? How are we going to produce them and contribute to the achievement of the national target? He expected that the BREC conferences would become a venue for delving into these questions. He called upon the participating universities to continue the cooperation and build the right momentum for the development of research and researchers in this region.
There were two keynote addresses in BREC 2014, presenting industry and academic perspectives. The keynote speaker from industry, Andy Song (Director, Leasing & Marketing, The Spring Management Services, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia) spoke about the role of research and researchers in the development of the retail industry. His talk was titled, “Research--An Integral Part of Retail Development.”
The keynote speaker from academia, Eva Dobozy (Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, Curtin University, Perth, Australia) spoke about the growing importance of a “research workforce” and the need for research students to develop a suitable “researcher identity” while becoming a part of this workforce. Her talk was titled, “What Does it Mean to be a Researcher? The Emergence of a Research Workforce.”
3. Workshop on Effective Participation
A total of 24 delegates, all research students in various fields (namely, business and management, computing, economics, education, and law), attended the conference. Before they were divided into their parallel sessions, the delegates were taken through a workshop focusing on being an effective participant in a conference like this. The workshop highlighted various forms of communication, such as asking questions, giving feedback, making suggestions, sharing experiences, and so forth. The importance of being specific, open-minded, and constructive was highlighted.
The purpose was to make the participants aware of the importance of giving and receiving feedback. Students usually go to conferences with the objective of receiving as much feedback as possible. However, at the BREC conference, they are also expected to play a more active role by providing feedback to others. This is because the skill of giving feedback is an important element of researcher development. The participants were alerted to the risks that may arise in any human interaction. They discussed possible risks and practised ways of managing those risks. The workshop provided them with an orientation on how to be effective participants in the subsequent parallel sessions.
4. Parallel Sessions
There were eight parallel sessions of 90 minutes each, spread over the 2 days of the conference. The role of chairing the sessions was given to the participants so as to give them a first-hand experience of the tasks involved in building a research community, namely: admitting research topics, allowing observations and ideas to be shared, facilitating discussion, giving credit, managing time, and so forth.
Within each parallel session, there were three presenters (with 30 minutes allocated to each, for presentation and discussion of their work-in-progress). For each presenter, an experienced researcher was pre-assigned as a discussant. The discussant had read the presenter’s work prior to the conference and prepared a detailed review report. During the presentation, the discussant initiated a conversation on the presenter’s work and summarised the discussion at the end. The discussant also handed over a hard copy of their review report to the presenter. Additionally, the audience members also filled out a feedback form for each presenter. Thus the presenters received oral and written feedback in various forms.
The entire feedback process was managed with sensitivity towards the presenter. The discussants steered the process so as to provide encouragement and support to the presenters. As it became evident from the reflective comments of the conference participants later (see Section 6 below, “On the Feedback Received by the Presenters”), the presentation and feedback process was experienced as a unique and positive feature of this conference.
5. Roundtable Discussion on Research Students’ Experience
In a roundtable discussion, participants were requested to share their experiences of undertaking a research degree at their respective institutions. This brought out the good practices prevailing at some institutions (e.g., library facilities, effective supervision, conference support, and publishing opportunities). However, several participants shared the obstacles they have encountered. One of the common difficulties was in selecting a research topic, where some of the participants experienced inadequate support from their institutions. Others expressed the difficulties encountered in developing effective working relationships with their supervisors.
The idea that one can seek support from a wider range of sources, both within the institution and outside, was discussed. This is akin to the notion of developmental network found in the literature of research education (Sweitzer, 2009). Several participants saw the BREC conference series as a mechanism to create the type of support network necessary for researchers in this region (see Section 6 below, “On Developing Support Networks”).
Some participants narrated stories of the thoughtless and soul-crushing styles of supervision they have experienced. Such stories indicate that, instead of motivating students and sparking their interest in research, sometimes the wrong type of supervision can dampen their spirit and bruise their self-esteem. This highlights the immensely important topic of supervisor development. Universities have not paid much attention to this vital element of research education. The BREC conferences have not only raised this issue to the participants’ awareness, but also made a positive contribution by consciously practising a more respectful and sensitive way of relating with each other. This point has been noted in the reflections by participants (see Section 6 below, “On the General Learning Value” and “On the Overall Experience”).
6. Reflections by Participants
In the closing session, both oral and written comments were collected from the participants. Here are some snippets from those comments:
On the General Learning Value
“The experience was meaningful to me.”
“Now I can understand better from a student’s viewpoint what research means to them.”
“I have drawn some lessons on effective supervision.”
“Got some useful knowledge.”
“I learnt by watching others talk about their research.”
“Now I have a better idea about research proposals.”
On the Feedback Received by the Presenters
“I appreciate the feedback received.”
“This was the first time I felt good sharing my research.”
“I received some good feedback.”
“This was useful input for the next stage of my research.”
“I received good feedback about philosophy and methodology.”
“I am taking away many things, such as feedback on my work and written review on my proposal.”
“I received constructive feedback on my research proposal.”
“I received some constructive feedback, but I look forward to more.”
On Developing Support Networks
“A lot of doors have opened.”
“Conferences are also networking events.”
“This conference was a beginning of a long-term partnership.”
“We would like to collaborate again.”
“It was possible to build closer relationships, which could develop as support systems.”
“I am new to research; I appreciate the support received.”
“I was happy to be able to assist postgraduate research students.”
“This conference has stimulated meaningful interactions among researchers.”
“So far, most of the inputs to my research came from my supervisor; now I am receiving inputs from multiple sources.”
On the Overall Experience
“We have repeated the success of BREC 2013.”
“I found the experience to be rather unique.”
“This was a valuable experience.”
“I have never been to this kind of a conference.”
“This has opened up new possibilities for me.”
“I saw people discussing research objectives, research questions, methodologies, etc., even during breaks.”
“I am feeling positive and respectful.”
“This is a good platform for research students.”
“Because of the small number of participants, the interactions were richer.”
“It reduced the gap between research students and supervisors.”
Collins, H., Shamala, R., & Dash, D. P. (2014). Developing as a researcher through the culture of sharing: Report on the first Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2013). Research World, 11, Article A11.1. Retrieved from http://www1.ximb.ac.in/RW.nsf/pages/A11.1
Evans, L. (2011). The scholarship of researcher development: Mapping the terrain and pushing back boundaries. International Journal for Researcher Development, 2(2), 75-98.
Sweitzer, V. B. (2009). Towards a theory of doctoral student professional identity development: A developmental networks approach. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(1), 1-33.
Suggested Citation: Dash, D. P., & Ait-Saadi, I. (2014). Developing as a researcher by doing meaningful research: Report on the second Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2014). Research World, 11, Article A11.4. Retrieved from http://www1.ximb.ac.in/RW.nsf/pages/A11.4
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