Late last year, Conversation Co had the privilege to work with the Graduate Student Association at the University of Melbourne. The purpose of our project was to understand the strengths of graduate students and researchers and the challenges they face while completing PhDs and Masters by Research to advocate for improved supervision, processes and University support.
As engagement practitioners and advocates, it is crucial that we understand the perspectives and needs of the communities we work with. The best way to do that, we feel, is to keep our participants abreast and involved in the project from start to finish. To better understand the experiences of students during their PhD candidature or Masters by research, we used a range of methods to connect with students, including: in-person pop-ups at food events, focus groups with students from diverse study fields, in person and online, surveys and interviews.
Being able to hear first hand the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study, showed us some common areas where the supervision process can be improved. Some of the ideas students came up with were:
- Creating a targeted induction and welcome program, to introduce new students to their faculty, demonstrate ways of working, connect them with other students and understand university and academic processes.
- Communicate and share the complaints process, to detangle and build confidence for students to use it.
- Advocate for smaller supervisor to student ratios, to create more one on one time, guidance and connection between students and their supervisors.
- Create spaces for peer learning allowing students to share their work across different faculties, learn from others and celebrate their findings.
- Create ways for potential graduate students to learn more about their supervisor options and meet potential supervisors before enrolling.
- Create a formal supervision agreement that both supervisors and researchers, feel confident in and protected by.
Simply gathering data is not enough. It is equally important to close the loop with participants and communicate how their feedback was used. Here are some lessons we learnt about closing the loop:
Closing the loop with engagement participants helps to build trust with the community you are working with. When participants feel that their feedback is valued and taken into consideration, they are more likely to engage with future projects and become advocates for your work. By closing the loop, we demonstrate that we take our participants’ opinions seriously and that their voices are heard.
Closing the loop is also important to help people understand the impact they have had on the project. Participants often give their time and energy to participate in engagement projects, and they want to know how their contributions have been used. By closing the loop, we are able to communicate the impact of the project and how participants’ feedback has informed our work.
Communicate Data Collection and Use
It is important to communicate how data is collected and how it will be used from start to finish. By doing so, we can honor the commitment participants have shown and ensure that they feel comfortable with the process. This is particularly important when working with sensitive topics or communities who may be hesitant to engage in research. By being transparent about our methods and intentions, we build trust and create a more open and honest dialogue.
Check for Accuracy and Misunderstandings
Closing the loop is also a chance to check in again with participants to see if we have got it right. Participants may have new insights or feedback to provide, or they may need to correct any errors or misunderstandings. By doing so, we can ensure that our data is accurate and that we have captured the true perspectives of our participants.
Present the Whole Data
Above all, it is important to present the whole of the data, including every question asked, whether we like the result or not. This helps to demonstrate that we are committed to transparency and that we take our participants’ feedback seriously. By presenting the whole data, we can also encourage more engagement and discussion around the topic, and potentially lead to more meaningful change.