Dr Sarah Bate, Professor Sine McDougall and I were recently awarded money to expand our previous efforts to give second year undergraduate students the opportunity to experience life as full-time researchers. Run for 8 weeks last summer for the first time, the selected students applied for and won the opportunity to work closely with a member of the Psychology Research Centre, and took part in discussions about experimental design, analysis and theory. They contributed fully to the whole process. The students reported gaining tremendous benefits from the scheme in terms of knowledge and skills gained (and consequently applied to their final year of study); particularly, they said, in their ability to digest academic articles, a task previously daunting and time-consuming.
Buoyed by this first run, this year’s scheme will not only give new students the same opportunity but will also involve sponsorship (financial and non-financial) by external bodies, generating greater interaction with significant external bodies; relationships/networks that have the potential to help with research goals and award funding in the future. This first-step engagement with potential grant funders could represent a new path to funding larger projects; we foresee the possibility of matched-funded positions (at less than £1000 per student it is not too much to ask). Our aim is for each of the positions to be associated with a local charity or business. For example, one RA position this year will be referred to as the ‘Dorset ADHD Support Group Research Apprenticeship Position’. Engaging with this support group to garner non-financial sponsorship has led to an invitation to the NHS ADHD Strategy Group and discussions about how future financial sponsorship might come about (not to mention their help in identifying families that live with ADHD and the introduction to other key personnel in the local NHS Trust and other relevant bodies).
A further betterment of the scheme this year is specifically aimed at preventing ‘brain drain’. We recently lost three of our best students to some prestigious institutions in the transition from BSc to MSc level. In the present bid we also applied for funds to have two excellent students work as RAs between their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees on projects specifically geared towards a topic they could address at MSc level. Importantly, for the very best students this will complete the path from the voluntary term-time RA scheme which we also run at second year level to the summer apprenticeship scheme right through to MSc project, ensuring an unprecedented level of co-creation. The postgraduate RA scheme will, we hope, act as an incentive for these students to stay with us.
In future we hope to port this model to other Centres and Schools. It is relatively cheap to run, and the benefits are considerable and, even if we do say ourselves, great fusion. If you are interested, please contact us.