Archive for the ‘News’ Category

So you want to be a PhD Tutor? Current tutor Steph, gives an insider’s perspective!

 

Joining The Brilliant Club

Each week we get a great round up from the Doctoral Academy Graduate Society (DAGS) team of all the opportunities available outside of our research. What we don’t get to hear, however, are any first-hand experiences. If, like me, you have a tendency to bite off a bit more than you can chew, it can be helpful to know in advance how much commitment these endeavours require. As a big fan of public engagement, when I saw a paid opportunity with The Brilliant Club I jumped at the chance!

What is The Brilliant Club?

1 in 4 of the most advantaged pupils in the UK progress to a highly-selective university, whilst for the most disadvantaged students this number can be as low as 1 in 50!  The Brilliant Club aims to change this, increasing the number of pupils from underrepresented backgrounds progressing to highly-selective universities by utilising the experience and passion of PhD students. Working as a PhD Tutor on The Scholars Programme involves designing and delivering a course, in the form of seven tutorials, based around your own research.  While most of us can probably see the benefits of participating in a programme like this, I think it’s helpful to know what it actually involves.

The Application Process

The first step is completing a fairly standard application form to tell The Brilliant Club about yourself and why you’d like to get involved. If you are successful at this stage, the next step is the assessment centre. This involves an interview and delivering an 8-minute mini lesson to two of the interviewers who take on the role of 14-year-old students! This mimics, as best it can, the environment you would be in during an actual tutorial, with interruptions and lots of enthusiastic questions!

The Training and Preparation

So you’ve made it through the interview and been offered a position as a PhD Tutor – what’s next? Well the lovely people at The Brilliant Club don’t like to throw you in at the deep end without a life jacket, so they provide a training weekend loaded with information, from effective questioning to engaging with pupils. I’ll admit that, at first, I was skeptical of dedicating a whole weekend to training, but it was actually amazing! Not only did I come away with a whole bag of great teaching techniques but also felt super positive about my own abilities.

Feeling inspired, I set out to make my course handbooks for my tutorials.  Tutorials taught in both the winter (September – December) or spring (January – March) terms require tutors to design their own course, often based on the mini-lesson delivered at the assessment centre. These are aimed at either Key Stage 4 (14-16 years old) or Key Stage 5 (16-18 years old) pupils and are taught in a series of 60-minute sessions, with six pupils in each group. For me, this was the most demanding part of being a PhD Tutor and my advice to future tutors would be to allow a lot of prep time for making the handbooks, developing the content and designing the assignments. If designing a course isn’t for you, don’t worry, during the summer term (April – June) a range of pre-designed courses to deliver to younger pupils are also offered.

 

The Launch Trip

At the beginning of the programme, students are taken on a campus tour of a highly-selective university and have the opportunity to meet current undergraduate students. They also take part in their first tutorial. The launch trip tutorial is the first impression your tutees get of both the topic and of you as a PhD Tutor, so naturally I was a bag of nerves. What if they hated it? What if my under-practiced strawberry DNA extraction experiment didn’t work?! However, about two minutes into my tutorial I realised I needn’t have worried. The pupils engaged both with the topic and the university-style teaching, resulting in both animated discussions and endless questions (seriously, never underestimate the levels of questioning from 14-year olds)!

The Tutorials

The remaining six tutorials are taught at the host school, some of which are fairly rural, and therefore possibly challenging to get to, especially if you’re relying on public transport. Appreciating not everyone finds DNA packaging as interesting as me, I tried to keep tutorials as practical as possible, with interactive models and games. Homework is set after each tutorial, building up to a final assignment set in Tutorial 5. This varies from a 1000 to 2500 word essay, depending on the key stage, set around a question from the tutorial handbook. After a draft submission and feedback session in Tutorial 6 (meaning a fairly quick marking turn around for the tutor) the final assignment is submitted online.  At this point things can get intense again, as you’re not only required to mark your own 12 pupils’ assignments but also to moderate others, so good planning is a must!

Whilst I have enjoyed every minute of working with The Brilliant Club, I won’t deny that, at times, it’s been challenging and requires commitment. It takes a lot of organisation and the ability to plan tutorials around your research.  However, delivering the final grades last week and seeing the pupils realise their potential on the programme made it all worth it.  For anyone considering a career inside or outside of research, and wanting to develop their teaching, project management or communication skills, the experiences obtained as a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club are invaluable.  Now, for my pupils at least, it’s time to graduate!

For more information, click here!

Examining the importance of early intervention in school widening participation practices

“I’ll probably just go to [insert local university here]….” – Alex, aged 11.

Alex is a year six student in a primary school in Hartlepool who, after reading different university prospectuses, claimed she would most likely go to a university in her locality. When I was eleven I wanted to be a pop star, specifically a Spice Girl and later a member of S Club Juniors. This perhaps was not the most realistic of aspirations but arguably not too detrimental to my future career options. Alex on the other hand had already decided at age eleven that she would not be attending a university further than 30 miles away from her current home.

Alex is not alone in her limited aspirations. Research by Moulton et al (2015) suggests that students as young as seven make realistic decisions regarding future career aspirations with very few aspiring to “fantasy” careers (p.117). Furthermore, it is suggested that while students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not necessarily have lower aspirations than their wealthier counterparts, these students are not as able to “navigate the paths to their goals” (Kintrea, St Clair & Houston, 2011) with their families lacking the cultural capital required to help support their child in their endeavours (Khattab, 2015).

At Dyke House, we recognise the importance of supporting student aspirations from an early age. Our primary intervention programme iAspire is a coherent and holistic programme that runs from Year 4 to Year 6 across our feeder primary schools to introduce the concept of higher education and careers with the core aim of challenging our students’ current aspirations. In Year 4 participants work on skill-based learning tasks that highlight four values integral to a successful career: excellence, commitment, integrity and cooperation. In Year 5, students learn about four different types of career pathways and the skills specific in each area needed to be successful. In Year 6, participants learn about higher education including academic courses, extracurricular activities and student life. As part of this programme, students also visit a Russell Group university to gain first-hand experience of university life.

The programme is rigorously evaluated to ensure that it fulfils its core purpose to raise students’ aspirations. Pupil questionnaires are completed before and after the programme where question topics range from enjoyment of the programme to future career aspirations. Echoing recent research into children’s aspirations, the most popular careers aspired to by participants were sportsmen/women, social media celebrities, healthcare professions and teachers (Chambers et al, 2018). Last year, 64% of Year 6 students after completing the iAspire programme said they would like to go to university compared to 52% before the programme. 72% of students also said they knew what skills they needed for their future career choice. Staff are also requested to complete a questionnaire to provide general background of pupil aspirations and to ensure that the programme continues to be of value to our primary colleagues.

Complementing our iAspire programme, a select number of Year 5 pupils took part in The Brilliant Club’s The Scholars Programme, working with their PhD Tutor on the philosophical course ‘What is Fairness?’ A first for Dyke House, we were extremely interested to see how this younger group of pupils would respond to a tricky subject and how they would manage with the 1000-word final assignment required to complete The Scholars Programme. Credit goes to their PhD Tutor Sondos who managed to introduce sophisticated philosophical debates into the group. All students submitted and passed with outstanding results and my proudest moment seeing a year five student successfully reference their information in-text with accompanying sources in their reference list. Although these students did not directly learn about careers or talk much about their own aspirations, by taking part in the programme they learnt what it might be like to study at university, a necessity for many career pathways. On a national scale, 82% of Ever6FSM KS2 and KS3 students said that they planned to attend university in the future after taking part in the programme compared to 58% of students before the programme (Cheung, 2017).

Whether students spoke about their aspirations in iAspire or through the informal discussions in The Scholars Programme, each student was encouraged to aim high and think about their own career goals. It is easy to become cynical about the prospect of asking our younger children to state their aspirations considering that we know they will change their minds regularly. Nevertheless, what is important is that we have these conversations early so that whether pupils want to become engineers, dolphin trainers or slime makers (all real aspirations from our current iAspire Year 4 students), they can learn about the skills required to be the best they can be and to keep the necessary doors open.

 

References

Cheung, C. (2017). Starting young: improving university access through early in-school interventions. The Brilliant Club. Retrieved 1st February, 2018, from https://thebrilliantclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Impact-Case-Study-Early-Intervention.pdf

Chambers, N et al. (2018). Exploring the career aspirations of primary school children from around the world. Retrieved 31stJanuary, 2018, from https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Drawing-the-Future-FINAL-REPORT.pdf

Kattab, N. (2015). Students’ aspirations, expectations and school achievement: what really matters? British Educational Research Journal, 41(5), p.731-748.

Kintrea, K., St Clair, R & Houston, M. (2011). The influence of parents, places and poverty on educational attitudes and aspirations. Retrieved 29th January, 2018, from https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/influence-parents-places-and-poverty-educational-attitudes-and-aspirations

Moulton, V et al. (2015). Fantasy, unrealistic and uncertain aspirations and children’s emotional and behavioural adjustment in primary school, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 6(1), p.107-119.

Co-producing Knowledge: The opportunities and challenges of collaborative research

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk about my experience of collaborative research with a group of students and researchers, as part of a series of seminars on public-facing research organised by The Brilliant Club. Concepts like ‘coproductive research’ and ‘participatory research’ have become buzzwords in academia and we wanted more critical reflection on what collaborative research is and what the challenges are.

Why do collaborative research projects?

Collaborative research is about doing a study with participants who take an active role in shaping the research agenda and the research process. There is increasing distrust towards expertise in public life, where people claim we have had enough of experts. Collaborative research is a way of democratising knowledge production as we re-connect high-level scientific problems to the very real needs of communities.

Co-creating knowledge, through an iterative process of defining, refining, generating and implementing evidence with a range of different stakeholders can really broaden our understanding of issues, helping generate novel insights. Knowledge, particularly when it comes to complex issues, is hardly ever certain and is often contested. Opening the research process to public input can help demystify research, increasing peoples’ understanding of the academic process and therefore trust in it.

How do they work?

At The Brilliant Club’s seminar, I explained a couple of different projects I have been involved with.

Before starting my work at UCL, I was involved with Whitley Researchers, a collaboration between a group of residents from South Reading and the University of Reading. This was a community-based participatory research project. It was community driven, starting with a research topic of practical relevance to the community. It was participatory, as community members and researchers shared control of the research agenda through active involvement in the research design, implementation and dissemination. Furthermore, it was action-oriented, which meant that the process and results promoted positive change in the community.

In my current role at UCL, I am a Researcher-in-Residence (RiR) in East London, evaluating the integration of health and social services. This project uses a model of embedded research, where the researcher (me!) is embedded in the organisation he or she is researching, and becomes a core member of an operational team. This kind of academic project aims to narrow the gap between academia and practice. The different types of expertise of all the partners are acknowledged and there is strong emphasis on influencing through dialogue.

Although these two projects took different forms, they were based on common principles of collaborative research: collaboration across the full range of stakeholders; emphasis on solving practical problems; shared learning; and a focus on addressing power imbalances.

What are the issues?

For all its benefits, collaborative research is not easy to do and can do more harm than good without adequate reflection on a number of challenges:

Any collaborative research project raises new ethical issues, adding complexity to traditional aspects of research ethics. It entails complex interactions and potentially unequal power relationships. By aligning research with specific individuals in an organisation or community, academics may also influence others’ engagement with the research or their perception of the findings. Other times, academics may wish to motivate some form of political or social action which other research partners in a community might not want.

There are also real questions about how academics can demonstrate the impact of collaborative research projects. When career progression in academia is measured by the number of articles published, papers delivered, and grants received, the time-consuming and resource-intensive nature of collaborative research can be problematic. Academic papers may well be a low priority for other partners involved in the project as well, who might be more interested in problem resolution or the creation of a new programme.

How can universities and academics get involved?

There are a number of ways that universities can promote collaborative research:

In the meantime, there are already some great participatory research hubs online (i.e. University of Durham; University of Reading; Public Science Project). These sites offer resources and share case studies. So let’s get together and learn together!

 

Dr Sonia Bussu presented at The Brilliant Club’s seminar series about public-facing research, as part of our Impact Network. The seminars are open to all PhD researchers, early career academics and practitioners. The next session is Wednesday 6 December, 5pm-6pm.

8 Things All Pupils Undertaking a Nuffield Placement Should Know

Undertaking a research placement in a field you have no expertise in can be a little bit daunting. But don’t worry! Here are 10 things you should know to make your placement go as smoothly as possible.

1. It is completely fine if you do not have a lot of knowledge about your area of research.

The first few days of your placement may seem quite confusing. I took a couple of days to understand the basics of my project but following the steps below helped me find my feet quickly!

2. Make sure you ask your supervisor for a short summary of your project before you start!

A couple of weeks before I started my placement, I asked my supervisor to send me a short summary of my project. This gave me the opportunity to read up about what I was researching beforehand so I wasn’t completely baffled when I began. It is helpful to have some background knowledge not only so your supervisor can see you are enthusiastic, but so you can have peace of mind knowing that you at least understand the basics of your research.

3. Write down everything you do.

I must admit, I would tell myself, “I’ll write it down later”, whenever my supervisor told me something. But the truth is, you will forget it, especially when you are constantly being told new information. Whether or not you think what you are being told is important, WRITE IT DOWN! It will inevitably be useful later on when writing your report.

4. Ask as many questions as you like.

A lot of people are afraid to ask questions because they think they will come across as annoying. However, this is not the case. Supervisors love it when students ask many questions as this shows your enthusiasm and that you are interested in what you are researching.

5. Your supervisor may allow you to carry out some experiments on your own!

You are a mature and responsible individual which means you may be told to carry out experiments independently. This is a great opportunity for you to build your confidence – so definitely go for it!

6. You will receive all necessary training.

Another thing a lot of people tend to worry about is “will I be able to use the equipment?” Before starting your placement, you will definitely receive training as this is one of the requirements. If there are any doubts, make sure you ask questions.

7. Mistakes will happen but remember this is a learning process.

There may be times where an accident happens, or your final results do not turn out as expected. The most important thing is that you learn from it and develop new skills. A good question to ask yourself would be “If I was to do this again, what would I change?”

8. ENJOY IT! 

One of the most important things about this placement, is that you enjoy your time and do not panic if something goes wrong. After all, you are not an expert… yet! If anything does go wrong, just have a laugh about it, learn from it and move on.

Good luck on your placement!

The Importance of CPD for Researchers and Teachers

As Brilliant Club tutors, we are expected to ‘share academic expertise with state schools’. There are as many approaches to sharing expertise as there are approaches to developing that expertise. CPD is as much a part of pedagogy as it is a commitment of the teaching (sharing) practitioner, or of any professional, to the enhancement of personal skills and proficiency throughout their careers. Without reflection, the value and impact of CPD opportunities can be squandered. It is important that CPD is undertaken but equally important is that the practitioner be mindful of how ‘best practice’ is practised.

Most schools demand of their teaching professionals both a teaching qualification and a commitment to ongoing professional development. Reflecting the way students engage with the demands of the mark schemes for their subject exams, the first criterion for judging the effectiveness of teaching and learning is based on the ‘extent to which the teachers’ standards are being met’. As a result, teachers must be reflective practitioners and lifelong learners themselves and an awareness of some form of teaching standard must be a part of the T&L provision in any educational environment.

Rather than considering these a prescriptive set of draconian laws, we must consider the plurality of research outcomes behind this set of guiding principles. They merely should encourage us all to reflect on our practice. Whether or not we as teaching professionals are achieving these standards and the manner in which we address that as a goal is up to individuals and their observers – supervisors and students alike. The ultimate goal of @BrilliantClub tutors has to be that of facilitating experiences that help to prepare students from low participation backgrounds for the demands of university life – ‘hard’ academic skills and ‘soft’, though often more complex, social ones.

@hm_talbot‘s recent MA thesis calls for greater dialogue between HE and FE institutions in preparing students for the transition and as such Brilliant Club tutors can be at the forefront of that discussion. Her conclusions suggest that independence in undergraduate English Literature students is lacking and that students struggle with seminar participation, independent reading, and creating academic relationships – among other things. It should not be assumed that this experience is limited to university English departments alone.

Of course, The Brilliant Club has the potential to address these issues. But faced with students who demand increasing levels of support and scrutiny, coupled with this June’s Teaching Excellence Framework (which rated institutions on ‘some of the outcomes of teaching’) – are we as tutors equipped to deliver? The Brilliant Club stipulates that, ’New PhD tutors must attend a Researcher Development training weekend before undertaking a new placement’. There’s ‘core pedagogy’ for new tutors and ‘advanced skills training’ for those returning. So, core training is certainly given and tutors are responsible for selecting ongoing training through ‘electives’, but is that enough?

Professor David Nichol considers, ‘the underpinning requirement for all attribute development is the students’ ability to evaluate critically the quality and impact of their own work’. As teachers we must subject ourselves to the same scrutiny. Once trained it is up to us how we deploy our skills sets. Can we judge for ourselves the impact of our practice? To a degree, yes. Can we adequately rectify any issues on our own? Again, yes, to a degree. Should we have to do either of these things alone? No.

Brilliant Club tutors are given ample opportunity to engage in a T&L feedback loop – or supported self-reflection. CPD opportunities such as those offered by The Brilliant Club are a key part of this loop. Such opportunities enable professionals to vary their practice and test the impact of different techniques by raising awareness of the variety of pedagogical tools that are available. By confronting and reviewing different techniques we are encouraged to reflect on impact and thus our own performances. Tutorial observations can also play a leading role in this process.

“The most significant action that has had a sustained impact on my professional development, including visiting other schools, is being observed and observing other teachers.” @TeacherToolkit.

The well conducted observation tutorial can be a multi-beneficial tool. It can at once teach good practice, highlight strengths, highlight weaknesses, and give confidence to the teacher and observer alike.

There is a fine line to negotiate between jejune aversions to labels such as ‘best practice’ on the grounds of overbearing prescription and the recognition that everyone has their own style and idiosyncratic relationships with teaching groups. Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley suggest that ‘[t]eachers can learn a lot by watching colleagues, but they can rarely copy them completely because their styles and personalities as well as accompanying skill sets are just too different’. CPD opportunities can offer the teaching practitioner ideas to utilise where appropriate to both their students and their practice and the means with which to review their efficacy and impact.

As a part of the plan, implement, and review loop, observations as a CPD opportunity can play their part in each stage. Not only that, they are an integral part of the culture of any outstanding teaching institution. So why not approach a Brilliant Club colleague to observe you or allow you to observe them. After all, they too have probably spent time getting good at something to show you or could do with a second opinion on something new they are trying. Go on, practise what you teach.

Nuffield Summer Placements: How my interest in the brain led me to do a placement in Neurorehabilitation

I have always been interested in how this three-pound structure is essentially us. It controls everything from what we think to what we do, and yet there is still so much that we don’t know about the brain. This makes me wonder how much is there that we’re not aware of about ourselves…

Unlike most Nuffield Students, I took on the challenge to try and organise my own placement. This might sound quite scary at first, but I realised it wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, it gave me much more freedom in choosing where I wanted to go and what I wanted to spend four weeks of my summer holiday on; meaning I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Although I have to admit I might have been one of the luckier ones out there as the first email I sent landed me a placement at the neurorehabilitation unit of the University of East London!

The biggest fear that someone has before starting somewhere new is the thought of how they will fit in and whether they will get along with others. It was exactly the same for me when I started my placement. Sure, I was thrilled about it, but at the same time I couldn’t help but worry. How I could possibly work and adapt in an environment where everyone would be so experienced in the field? I knew pretty much nothing about neurorehab and was just curious about their research on the brain. Luckily enough, everyone in the lab knew exactly how I was feeling.

Throughout my placement, I worked with two PhD students who were also my supervisors. They made sure that I was safe when working in the lab and led me through the project, but more importantly, they ensured that I was comfortable and liked what I was doing. I’m very grateful to have had supervisors who were very approachable and genuinely wanted me to enjoy doing my project. We decided that it would be best for me to conduct my own mini project, instead of working on the data from an existing one. This gave me the chance to learn more about what it means to work in research, as I was part of it from the start. From doing background research and acquiring results to discussing them and coming up with a conclusion, I did it all. With some help of course, but it was essentially my own project.

My research involved investigating how the ability to use our hands to perform tasks – called manual dexterity – is dependent on our age, gender, hand dominance, and attention by conducting a pegboard task. I promise it’s actually not as complicated as it sounds. A pegboard is an instrument with loads of small keyhole-shaped slots in it, and the goal for the participant was to complete the pegboard by placing a small peg in each of these slots whilst I timed them. They were asked to do this with their right hand, then their left hand, and then repeat it all for the second part of the experiment where they would also be tapping with their free hand to see how this would affect their reaction time.

It’s a behavioural test and uses quite a simple concept, however, its applications can be very wide. For example, it is commonly used to see how stroke patients are recovering, to compare motor skills between a clinical population and a healthy control group, and to help us better understand conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dysgraphia, and schizophrenia to name a few.

My project entailed testing healthy participants and researching the reason behind the results I had obtained, most often by reading previous studies that had already been done and were similar to mine. Through this, I learnt a lot about the science behind motor coordination and the areas in the brain that are responsible for it.

However, this formed only part of my placement. Yes, it was what my project report was based on, but I was also involved in two more projects working alongside my supervisors. Expanding on my own mini project I worked on a project by one of my supervisors which looked at the brain activity of someone whilst they were doing the pegboard task, and another one looking at motor skills during a robot reaching task!

Thanks to the Nuffield Foundation, through this invaluable experience not only did I gain knowledge on the human brain, but I also met some amazing people who shared their love for research with me, and developed loads of skills ranging from data analysis and practical skills to written communication and time management. This will not only impress any university that I’ll apply for but is also guaranteed to come in handy throughout my current and future studies.

In addition, it certainly gave me some ideas about what I might like to do once I graduate. So to anyone considering a Nuffield research placement or about to start theirs, I would like you to really embrace this opportunity and make the most out of it because I assure you that you’ll come out with much more knowledge and experience than you did before you started.

5 Reasons You Should Apply to be a PhD Tutor with The Scholars Programme!

Scholars Programme PhD Tutor Gemma Edney from the University of Exeter shares the top 5 reasons to apply to become a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club!

There are so many reasons to apply to be a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club, but I have managed to whittle it down to five based on my own experience with The Scholars Programme.

  1. It’s an extremely worthwhile cause

The stats speak for themselves, here. Only  1 in 50 of the most disadvantaged quintile of 18-year olds progress to a highly-selective university, compared to 1 in 4 of the most advantaged quintile. The education gap between pupils from underrepresented backgrounds and their more affluent peers is huge, and it is important that we, as higher education practitioners, try to help redress the balance. This is what The Brilliant Club aims to do, with great success. As a PhD Tutor, you can help narrow the gap and contribute to a great cause.

  1. You can make a real difference

When I first became a PhD Tutor, I was skeptical about the amount of difference I could make in the space of seven weeks. However, I soon realised that it isn’t just about the pupils’ subject knowledge, but the other ways they can develop through the programme. Working as a PhD Tutor, you get the chance to see the progression your pupils make week by week. You have the opportunity to make a genuine difference to their lives, and the chance to have a lasting impact on their self-confidence, work ethic and realisation of future opportunities.

  1. It’s a chance to get your research off campus

It is so easy as a PhD Researcher to just spend all of your time in the library, at your computer, or in the lab. Working as a PhD Tutor offers you the opportunity to take your research off campus, share it with other people, and get them interested in your subject. You can learn how your research can be relevant to the current education system, and disseminate it to your pupils, their teachers, and other PhD tutors. This isn’t just good for professional reasons, it’s great for your own confidence in your research area too: there’s nothing like capturing the imagination or interest of someone else with your own project.

  1. It’s great for your professional development

Widening Participation is fast becoming a focus of many universities; experience with a WP organisation like The Brilliant Club can count for a lot for Higher Education institutions. Since becoming a PhD Tutor, I have been asked by my university to run training sessions for other PhD researchers and to help co-ordinate Widening Participation programmes at a university level, which is all great experience for the CV, as well as a good opportunity to develop understanding of the workings of Higher Education institutions more generally.

  1. You can meet great, like-minded people

One of the best things about becoming a PhD Tutor is entering into the fantastic community of existing tutors and Brilliant Club staff. Everyone you meet at training, launch events or graduations is passionate about what they do, and the enthusiasm is infectious. You become part of an amazing network of individuals all working towards the same goal. I have personally made some great friends through The Brilliant Club, and it’s great to share experiences and tips with other researchers.

 

Overall, I would recommend working as a PhD Tutor to anyone who is interested in increasing access to Higher Education, or wants to disseminate their research in a creative and fulfilling way.

Researchers in Schools Participants Discuss Training: Dr Dearbhla McGrath

The last three days of summer training have been a really enjoyable experience and it has been so beneficial to reconnect with my fellow RIS trainees. After a rewarding but somewhat gruelling year, it has been cathartic to catch up and see how everyone is getting on, to exchange stories, good and bad, and congratulate and console each other on the highs and lows of the past year.

The focus of our sessions this summer training has been meta cognition. I found these sessions truly interesting and inspiring and I have started to consider ideas for my subject enhancement project this year. One thing I really want to help my students develop is the confidence to have faith in their own ideas and to share them with their peers. I would also like to develop my students’ ability to reflect on their own work in a meaningful way, and to think about their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to improve.

My highlight of the year overall has definitely been teaching my Uni Pathways course. The students really engaged with the material, carried out independent research and produced excellent essays at the end of the course. I also had the chance to share some of their work during a whole school training day, which was a great way of showcasing the students’ excellent work, to clarify to my colleagues what the RIS objectives are and what my Uni Pathways course entailed. In general, my colleagues at Challney High School for Boys were extremely supportive of my work with the students and encouraged me every step of the way.

One thing that was invaluable to me throughout my training year was the support of my Department Head and mentor, Victoria Abbott. Her advice and guidance were crucial to my success. Without her on-going support I would not have thrived at Challney the way I did. I also found it helpful to have a previous RIS participant at my school. Dr Riccardo Porcari was a constant source of support, especially when it came to launching Uni Pathways in our school this year.

I am now looking forward to a new school year when I will have the opportunity to put into practice everything I have learned this year. I am excited about developing my subject enhancement course and working with my Uni Pathways students again. This has been a tough year and a steep learning curve but I am extremely proud of what my fellow RIS participants and I have accomplished!

How do I inspire young students to choose and excel in STEM subjects?

Researchers in Schools maths teacher Mari Chikvaidze reflects on how she supports secondary pupils to explore and enjoy STEM subjects.

My name is Mari Chikvaidze and I am a teacher of Mathematics at Claremont High School Academy. I would like to share with you how my background and experiences of working with The Brilliant Club have shaped my desire to inspire young students to choose and excel in STEM subjects.

I have been trained by the highly-experienced Researchers in Schools team at The Brilliant Club to design and deliver two types of learning activities: The first is a widening participation activity for which I created a university-style course based on my own PhD research interests; I will tell you more about it later in this post, as this is what I am most passionate about! The second is a subject attainment activity, for which I deployed findings from cutting-edge research in cognitive science and metacognition to boost students’ abilities to learn and remember complex ideas in mathematics.

But let me first start by telling you a bit about my background.

Prior to joining The Brilliant Club, I obtained a first degree in Physics in my home country of Georgia. I then studied in the UK and Sweden for a Master’s degree in Bioinformatics, and finally I obtained a combined PhD in Mathematics and Natural sciences from the University of Heidelberg, in Germany.

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of my doctoral programme, I acquired an in-depth understanding of the connections between STEM subjects. This has not only given me a grounding across mathematics and the natural sciences, but enabled me to interpret issues in a holistic manner. This motivated me to train to become a school teacher and inspire students at an early age to engage fully with STEM subjects and to help them understand the entire context in which the subject sits.

Joining The Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme in 2013 enabled me to pursue this goal. With the help and guidance of the highly-skilled and enthusiastic team at The Brilliant Club, I designed my very first university-style course on computational drug design. I was also trained to teach the content of this course in a small group setting to talented students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The tutorials that I delivered in my free time helped me balance the frustration I was experiencing in my work life. At that time, there was no teacher training route available to people like me. Our options were either to work as teaching assistants in state schools or teach in the independent sector. Having been born and brought up in a developing country, I was determined to devote my time to teaching students from underrepresented backgrounds, much like my own. Therefore, despite the limited opportunities to influence the learning happening in classrooms, I chose to work as a TA.

In summer 2014, The Brilliant Club announced the launch of a bespoke teacher training programme – Researchers in Schools. I was overjoyed and could not believe it, when after the rigorous selection process, I was offered to join the first cohort of just 20 PhD graduates, to train to be a teacher. This amazing opportunity enabled me to maintain my research profile, whilst learning about subject content delivery and evidence-based pedagogical approaches. For me, applying to be a PhD teacher with Researchers in Schools, was a natural progression from being a Scholars Programme PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club.

There are two reasons why I think RIS is so successful at attracting female STEM PhDs to teaching: Firstly, teaching enables us to maintain a healthy work-life balance (I am a mother of two small children and no other job has holidays overlapping with their school breaks). The second reason is the opportunity to share our passion for STEM and our own PhD research interests with young girls for whom it is important to have a female role model. Teaching these students is a very rewarding experience indeed, and the one that gives me the deepest sense of fulfilment.

As a RIS participant, I have been teaching maths four days a week and spending one day a week on RIS-specific activities; these include but are not limited to: talking to students about university and encouraging them to pursue STEM subjects, conducting educational research in the field of mathematics education and presenting my work at national and international events, and arranging work experience placements for some of my students. I also design and deliver widening participation and subject attainment activities to small groups of students in my placement schools.

I have delivered my widening participation activity to three different groups of students, some published their final assignments in a peer reviewed journal and others presented it at the International Science Conference for Students hosted by St. Paul’s Independent School. Just to give you some context, this multidisciplinary course is about designing a drug to target a disease of the student’s choice using mathematical modelling and computer simulations. The course is designed in such a way that students are encouraged to find something they are interested in, for instance one student worked on designing a drug to target cancer – a disease that her father had experienced, and another student investigated drugs available for treating depression, and proposed a model to minimise some of the side effects. Allowing students to choose their own projects motivates them to do well; it allows them to find a gap in the scientific literature and conduct an original piece of research. This is much like what we, PhD students, do at the university level, but on a smaller scale.

The main challenge for my girls who are interested in STEM subjects is that there are not enough female role models to inspire them. The Lampton students who presented at the International Science Conference for Students were the only female delegates representing a non-selective state school present. This is what they had to say about the experience: “At first instance, we felt incongruous to the setting as we were from a state school, however the teachers and students from various schools made us feel welcome which gave us the confidence to represent our school and share the knowledge we gained throughout the course”.

Despite being surrounded by privately educated male students of their age, my students soon realised that there was one thing they all had in common and that was a passion for science.

To me, this is what being a PhD teacher at the Brilliant Club is all about. It’s about instilling a love of learning and promoting equal opportunities for all students despite their gender, background or family income. Having played my humble part in their success story fills my heart with joy and gives my life its purpose.

The Brilliant Club explores growth potential with Social Business Trust

Partnerships Director Angela Sammon on why joining SBT’s Design programme is a significant opportunity for The Brilliant Club.

As Partnerships Director at The Brilliant Club, I am delighted to announce the launch of our relationship with Social Business Trust (SBT) today.

SBT is a registered charity that works in partnership with a group of leading businesses: Bain & Company, British Gas, Clifford Chance, Credit Suisse, EY, IBM, Permira and Thomson Reuters. Its mission is to support high growth potential social enterprises to scale-up their impact by investing cash grants and professional support from its eight corporate partners in a carefully selected portfolio of social enterprises. SBT works with established social businesses with revenues of c.£1 million or more that have strong growth potential.

Since 2010, SBT has provided £12.3 million worth of cash and in-kind assistance to its portfolio of organisations which tackle social issues, including 25,000 hours of high-quality business support. More than one million people have been helped by SBT’s portfolio of social enterprises since it was founded.

SBT is highly selective: it has reviewed 1,000 social enterprises to find the 21 it has worked with to date. The Brilliant Club is therefore justifiably proud that the organisation’s work has been recognised in this way. The relationship represents a significant opportunity for The Brilliant Club and we hope to see it develop into one which is long-term.

Successful partnerships are at the heart of The Brilliant Club’s success. For example, our relationships with schools and universities have made it possible for our PhD tutors to deliver academically-rigorous programmes to more than 10,000 pupils in 550 non-selective state schools in 2016/17 through The Scholars Programme.

Our discussions with SBT commenced shortly after the launch of our new five-year strategy, The Path to Outcomes, which outlines our commitment to building scale and evidencing impact. The Brilliant Club will show that we have supported 6,500 pupils from under-represented backgrounds to progress to highly-selective universities by 2021. We welcome the support and expertise of SBT in achieving this mission.

SBT is working with The Brilliant Club through its SBT Design Programme, in which successful, established social enterprises get hands-on support to create a robust business plan for sustainable growth. Securing a place on the programme is a positive indicator of our potential for further growth and we look forward to developing an expansion plan in the coming months.

SBT’s work with The Brilliant Club is being led by Hayley Hand, a Senior Consultant at EY who is on a secondment to SBT as an Investment Manager. Hayley has provided valuable support and analysis in selected areas across our charity over the past months and we were pleased to welcome her and SBT Portfolio Director Chloe Surowiec-Allison to present their initial findings at the launch of The Brilliant Club’s new academic year last week.

The Brilliant Club aspires to be recognised as delivering sector-leading impact reporting. As such the organisation welcomed meetings between SBT and our Research and Impact Department to evaluate the efficacy of our programmes. Discussions particularly focused on the impressive methodology underpinning the UCAS control group analysis.

In addition to our work with the SBT team, The Brilliant Club looks forward to sharing ideas and best practice with the other 21 social enterprises in SBT’s network. These are valuable opportunities for networking and collaboration for the organisation which we are excited to explore in the months ahead.

Click here to read SBT’s announcement on the launch of the relationship.