As coordinators of the Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods (EPRM) programme our job is to look after our participants, not only when they are physically in Maastricht but also when they join us online. We assign course tutors, individual research tutors, and modular coordinators – including Dr. Oxana Slobozhan, who graduated from our full-time PhD programme in 2014. Now based in Turkey, Oxana coordinates EPRM module two, where participants turn their research ideas into full proposals.
What do you find most interesting about the proposal topics you read?
The participants write proposals on issues that are very policy relevant – issues that may be important or that may need addressing as a matter of urgency. For most participants, this means that the research ‘puzzle’ or ‘gap’ is easily identified. I find this module quite rewarding, as the crux of the proposal – the main issue that the fellow is working on – is already established. Another important angle is that the participants, through their work affiliations, are already involved in the areas they are researching. This really improves the process of proposal development, as they are mostly familiar with the particular issues and landscape surrounding their research.
This module essentially covers four assignments: ‘Research Question’, ‘Literature Review’, ‘Research Design’ and ‘Research Analysis’. Do you see any patterns in terms of performance among the participants?
Recent rounds have shown that the first assignment – the ‘research question’ – is extremely important, as it sets the stage for the rest of the module. The participants who do well on the first assignment tend to do well on the subsequent ones. Because the first assignment focuses on the specification of the research question, this assignment helps to establish the core of the research proposal. Devoting more time and thought to the first module task helps with the follow-up assignments, which in turn focus on strengthening the details.
The overall outcome of the module is the core of a research proposal. Eight weeks is a short time to compose a proposal, especially because our students are mid-career professionals who may have very little research experience. What would you say is the main accomplishment upon completing this module?
Most participants manage to complete the module with a core of the proposal – a draft that has a clear and well-specified research question, as well as good initial drafts of the other proposal sections. Although little time is devoted to this module, by the end of it participants have usually established a strong foundation for the rest of the course.
This programme is your first experience of online teaching. What do you find most interesting or challenging about online teaching?
This module requires a lot of re-writing, especially in the early phases of the module. Participants are trying to specify their research questions and refine the focus of their research idea. What I find most interesting is the online work with tutors and coordinators (complemented by feedback via Skype sessions and videos) – and how sometimes it is even better than one-time face-to-face interaction. The continuous written feedback throughout the module really helps in the revision of drafts.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
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