5 ideas for researcher support I picked up at LILAC

Keighton Auditorium, University of Nottingham

In April, Tom and I headed up to Nottingham for LILAC: The Information Literacy Conference.

The venue for the conference was the University of Nottingham (see right for a photo of the Keighton Auditorium where the keynote speeches took place).

One of the my main aims for the conference was to pick up ideas for researcher support, and luckily lots of sessions at the conference touched on this theme!

Here are the top 5 ideas that I liked:

Workshops on how to publish your PhD as a monograph

In their LILAC presentation (‘Reinvigorating our information literacy support for researchers’), Sally Dalton and Deirdre Andre from the University of Leeds told us how their library had run a workshop for researchers on ‘How to publish your PhD as a monograph’. They invited in a publisher to give advice on how to approach publishers and they also arranged for an early career researcher who had published a monograph to come along to discuss their experiences. Library staff acted as facilitators for the event.

It sounded like this workshop had been successful, and I liked the way that the library had facilitated the event, and drawn together experts to give advice on how to publish your thesis. I think this type of workshop could be run relatively inexpensively; the only thing is that it would be important to check first what other people within the University are doing, as the Research Office and individual Schools could also be running this type of event – it is one of those areas where there could potentially be some overlap in researcher support!

Bespoke bibliometrics sessions

Also in their presentation, University of Leeds Library explained how they have tried something else which seems highly useful for researchers. They have offered bespoke bibliometrics sessions for specific departments within their University. For example, the library can offer to go to a particular department and give them information about their collaboration rates, citation scores, number of ORCID IDs, Altmetric scores, social media use, etc. A particular department, for example, might want to compare themselves with another research institution, or gain more information about where they are collaborating internationally.

I think this type of session sounds very useful for researchers and Schools. However there are a number of things to bear in mind!  Firstly, you would need a lot of bibliometric expertise (the University of Leeds has a bibliometrician); you might also need certain specialist databases in order to extract the bibliometric data you need; and – something very important – you need to be aware of the sensitivities around presenting this type of information to a School or department, as researchers may understandably feel nervous about being compared with other researchers.

Games for researchers

Mathilde Panes and Fantin Reichler of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne demonstrated a game they had developed for researchers. Some images of the prototype of the game can be seen in their presentation slides: ‘Making a game relatable’. The game they have devised makes researchers go through the different stages of their possible career (PhD, post-doc and professor), and makes them think strategically about where to publish; about applying for grants; about hiring staff, etc. Ideally you would integrate the game into a complete class (e.g. one hour theory then one hour of the game, or vice versa).

I liked the complex, multi-layered nature of the game and the fact that it incorporates real-life challenges and dilemmas. We tried out the first stage of the game at LILAC (the PhD stage, where it might be advantageous to have a publication before you finish your thesis), and it really made us think about where to publish (e.g. should you go for a high impact journal or something that might be more accessible?); the difficulties of the peer review system; and the pros and cons of applying for grants.

I think that Mathilde Panes and Fantin Reichler are considering publishing the game in due course, so I will keep an eye out for this as it might be something that we could run in conjunction with the Research Office.

Coffee mornings/ informal networking events

Royal Holloway Library (speakers Emma Burnett and Greg Leurs) gave a great presentation which was crammed full of ideas for increased researcher engagement with the library.

One relatively simple thing they have done is to run coffee mornings for researchers. Royal Holloway has a dedicated postgraduate researcher space in the library, so that has given the library staff more opportunity to connect with PGRs than previously. They have run a coffee morning outside the door of the PGR space once a month, and the benefits of this have been that: the PGRs can offer each other peer support; it gives the library an immediate way of offering Information Literacy support; and it allows the PGRs to ask questions of the library staff without having to book a 1-2-1. The informal conversations which library staff have had with PGRs has also enabled the library to gain feedback on the training sessions they run for researchers.

One of the takeaway lessons from Emma and Greg’s presentation is that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of informal networks. They help us to build a connection with our researchers and to make sure that we are developing training sessions that are of real use to them.

Online modules and Skills Check

At LILAC, Lorna Smith and Anne Archer of Newcastle University told us about an online offering they have developed for Arts & Humanities postgraduate researchers (‘Stepping into the unknown: teaching information skills through blended learning’). They have done a lot of work in transferring the content of various face-to-face workshops into an online VLE course, and the result has been improved student feedback and greater student engagement. An overview of the overall module (a blended learning module) can be seen here.

Clearly creating a module for PGRs is very time-consuming, but I think there are maybe discrete elements of the Newcastle module from which we can draw inspiration. For example, at the start of the module, Newcastle University Library asks students to undertake a Skills Check. (You can try the Skills Check out for yourself if you are interested to see what it looks like!) The intention is that students complete the Skills Check both before and after the module, so that they can see how far they have progressed.

As you can see from the above summaries, there were lots of great ideas for researchers discussed at LILAC!  My next step will be to look at some of these in more detail, to see if (and how) they could be translated to what we offer our research community at City.

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