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When embarking on a PhD, there are undoubtedly lots of admin procedures and working methodologies to get your head round. Luckily, the university has specialist training and professionalisation courses for people working in academia. As I noted earlier, the course is a juggling act of practice, theory, teaching, and admin, not to mention finding time for a social life and maybe some sleep.

Starting your research degree
That’s where the Starting Your Research Degree seminar comes in. The day-long session covers general aspects of managing the doctoral degree and gives attendees an opportunity to meet their peers from across the different departments. There was a good mix of participants at my session, with a wide variety of interests from the history of technology, through to theology in communities. We were able to discuss our projects in small groups and it was useful to listen to the way that different people approached their research question.

Training opportunities
After the initial ‘getting to know you session’, we found out a bit more about the specific protocols of our faculties and the opportunities that were available to us through the leap hub. As I’m in receipt of a scholarship to be on this course, I’m approaching it very much like a full time job, so it was also reassuring to hear from the talks that we should view ourselves as ‘early career researchers’ within the institution, rather than simply students.

However, this also means that we have to think about the requirements of what makes a good researcher, and to take responsibility for our own development needs. This information had been set out by research councils in the form of the Researcher Development Framework. Much like the TDNA tool, this is a chart with which to assess your research capabilities, but with a much broader scope (see image). This allows each researcher to address their training needs on an individual basis, and highlights considerations to be taken into account when conducting research.

Ethics training
One such consideration when undertaking research is the ethical review process. In other words, any instance of interacting with people, or even with research materials, might require additional permissions to ensure professional conduct. This could mean anything from respecting copyright and data protection, to how to write agreements for conducting interviews. When you make artwork in a studio, it’s difficult to see at first how this might apply, but an initial discussion using possible scenarios, showed how important this knowledge and training can be.

Special Collections
Being back in an academic environment really makes you appreciate the resources that you have at your disposal. In particular, I’ve become increasing interested in the idea of the archive, so it’s an amazing opportunity to have access to the rare and limited edition books up in Special Collections.

I’ve been getting to grips with my new surroundings and commitments and hadn’t yet been to visit the archive, so it was with some trepidation that I went upstairs in the Brotherton Library and pressed the buzzer. I’m often overwhelmed by libraries and archives, because absolutely everything seems interesting. This can sometimes have an almost stultifying effect, as I can’t imagine ever being able to process all that information. However, I decided to confront this feeling and started to search through the system for relevant material.

Following recent thoughts about the medieval in art, I decided to use that as a focus. This turned up some interesting finds, including ‘Styrr Itt Well’ [sic], a book of medieval recipes and potions with a foreword by Delia Smith. My thinking went off on a tangent however, when I came across a vanity press book of illustrated allegories. I started to consider the ontology of art, how meaning is ascribed to objects and images, and whether it would be possible, or even preferable to have more of a universal understanding of meanings within art. This means that my task now is to find yet more reading on that subject. Luckily, next week is reading week.