Researchers of the future? Building research capacity among postgraduate students in English

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 33 : Reshaping Higher Education

July, 2010, 654 pages
Published by
M. Devlin, J. Nagy and A. Lichtenberg
0 908557 80 9

The recent trend in higher education policy towards building research capacity places particular emphasis on postgraduate study as the incubator of research skills that drive the knowledge economy. For some humanities disciplines, such as English, this shift from traditional notions of scholarship to transferable skills has posed significant challenges. This paper will assess responses to the introduction of a compulsory research component in the B.A.(Hons) degree at The University of Auckland’s Department of English. Previously conceived as a one-year program undertaken by coursework, the inclusion of a research component in the B.A.(Hons) in English responds to a national regulatory change that reflects a commitment to building future research capacity as measured by higher-degree completions. Supportive of the University’s strategic objective to enhance the research experience of postgraduate students but aware of the range of academic abilities reflected in the Honours cohort, English department staff set about designing a platform for supporting staff-defined research projects via a mix of staff-led seminars with a skills-development focus, student peer-group seminars and one-on-one supervision. This research initiative represents a significant shift from prior graduate research culture. In this paper, we report on the initial findings of a research project developed to assess the impact of this initiative over a three-year inception period (2008– 2010). Our analysis of data from student focus-group discussions highlights the challenges and benefits that the ascendency of the research skills agenda poses established academic practice in disciplines like English.

Keywords: transition to graduate research, building research capacity, research skills