Summer 1 Research Blog - 'Taking Off The Training Wheels'

This short piece reflects on my experience in the Laidlaw programme so far. I also hope for it to act as a little bit of insight for other students planning a remote research project, sharing some of the challenges and how you might overcome them.
Summer 1 Research Blog - 'Taking Off The Training Wheels'
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 Taking Off The Training Wheels 

My summer of research was much like taking off the training wheels and learning to cycle your first bike. As a student from a science background, the previous two years of college have been trying to prepare me to undertake my own research project but I can say with certainty no amount of lectures and labs could have prepared me for this. Whilst most of my life experiences to date have come with some sort of handbook complete with step-by-step instructions, the Laidlaw programme challenged me to write my very own! 

Let me start by taking you back to the very beginning of my journey before I was awarded the scholarship in December 2022. I was planning my research proposal very carefully and as a student originally coming from Cork (which for those of you who aren't familiar is located in the very south of Ireland) I wanted to try to compose a project that allowed me to work remotely so as I could avoid finding and paying for accommodation in Dublin during the summer months. This I thought was a genius idea but later found out it came with its own set of challenges! 

Challenge 1 - You are not surrounded by your peers and supervisors! Although this sounds obvious when choosing to complete your project remotely, I can hands up say I greatly underestimated the power of peer support. Having support on a daily basis is so important when starting your research journey. As let's be honest we all have stupid questions we may be too afraid to ask our supervisors. That I realised is where your peers come in! So a word of advice to other scholars considering working remotely, ensure you've set up a good support network of peers before you embark on your solo adventure.

Challenge 2 - There are no set hours that you are expected to work on your project. This is a blessing and a curse because at first it seems like you will work less than those who chose to conduct their research in person, but in actual fact it means you are on call 24/7. You do however have the freedom to choose the hours you work best at. In order to cope with this you must learn to be extremely disciplined with yourself, ensuring you set certain boundaries, deadlines and goals for yourself to follow because nobody will be checking to see if you've got the work done. 

Challenge 3 - Conducting research remotely can be extremely stressful at times when your technological skills (much like my own) are not up-to-date . This can lead to a lot of mistakes and in-hand frustration. As for managing this, YouTube can be a very useful tool to guide you through some of the basics, but really it all comes down to practice, practice, practice! 

Although not technically part of the process of my actual project, I found one of the biggest challenges when undertaking my research was seeking ethics approval. My work for this began the day I was awarded the scholarship and took me a total of 3 and a half months to finally gain approval to proceed with the project. Those 3 months were filled with continuous back and forth communication, gruelling hours of editing endless amounts of documents and drowning in a never-ending amount of paperwork! Absolutely delighted that I had received ethics approval, I forgot that it wasn't even technically part of my 6 weeks assigned to research. Technically speaking, I had the whole project ahead of me! It felt like I had just climbed the mountain and expected to see the view at the top, but turns out I had only reached base camp. 

Fortunately for me the 6 weeks assigned to research were relatively smooth sailing. However, after the survey was launched I quickly realised that the responses were going to exceed my previously expected number of 100. When the survey closed it had already received 1596 responses! This was met with feelings of delight and disbelief but also a huge amount of angst as such a large volume of data would take a significantly more amount of time to analyse than I had previously planned for. This meant that with deadlines fast approaching the pressure was on. Fortunately, with the support of my family, friends and peers I managed to analyse all the data and complete the project! 

To conclude this blog, my summer of research could be compared to taking off the training wheels and learning to cycle your first bicycle. There's wobbling and falling, plenty of tears and laughter, but it's all worth it in the end. It has provided me with skills for life and much like cycling a bike, I will never forget!

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