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Sumayyah Patel

University of Leeds
PhD, Psychology

My Research Journey: A YCEDE Success Story?

In Summer 2022, I worked on one of 13 Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) projects sponsored by the Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education (YCDE). I was one of 14 funded students who identified as coming from an underrepresented background. My project was on the Impact of Inclusive Assessment on Degree Awarding Gaps in partnership with Dr Pam Birtill. The brief was set but the project was my own. This was my first official taste of independent research, and I can safely say there will be more.

How it began

As part of my BSc Psychology degree, I took part in a placement at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist between September 2021 and May 2022. This was my first time working in research outside my degree. It was also within this position where I first felt a sense of appreciation of research as having a real-world impact and was contemplating a potential future in this sector.

I worked in a multidisciplinary service across Paediatrics, playing a supportive role in Congenital Cardiology, Staff Support, and Neonatal Psychology Services. In this role I developed my skills in a professional environment, completing literature reviews and service audits, data analysis and information dissemination. However, given that this was an unpaid position, I was reliant on the reduced maintenance loan for students completing NHS placements. As such, during this time I worked two part-time jobs as a Private Tutor and Student Ambassador. It was during one of my shifts for the latter role that I was informed of this internship opportunity by Layla Kouara, a current PhD student and Educational Outreach Fellow. As a colleague and friend who had previously completed the same internship with LITE, Layla was an excellent advocate for the scheme. She informed me of the value the placement had had on her own research journey, and how it had provided her with the opportunity to advance her research skills.

Pursuing the YCEDE Student Research Experience Placement

Having my interest peaked, I researched the roles available and settled on two of the 13 potential topic areas, both of which were concerned with improving the access and success of students from under-represented groups into higher education. As a British Asian Muslim in a predominantly white University, these topics stood out to me the most due to my experiences of ‘belonging’ and ‘autonomy’ within a higher education context – fluid, subjective states which I later discovered were reflected in the literature on ethnically minoritized student experiences.

The application process itself felt relatively straightforward, perhaps due to the incredible support provided by the LITE team, from a virtual presentation outlining the process, Q&A, to a support with application writing session. When it came to the interview stage, I was actually considered twice. Firstly, in March and then again in May. It was my latter interview with Pam and another academic Alice O’Grady where I succeeded in securing a position.

My Experience on a LITE SREP

Prior to starting my placement, I had made it clear that I had some personal engagements throughout the summer, certain days that where I would be unavailable. Pam and the LITE team were incredibly understanding. They believed the placement should be flexibly arranged; as long as the 210 allocated hours were completed across the summer, whether that meant working one or two days a week or for 4 or 5-day blocks, or however else worked best as the weeks came. As long as there was an honest line of communication, there were no issues. In the spirit of honesty and openness, Pam and I agreed to weekly check-ins where I was able to share my current research, thoughts, and feelings about the project. This was a safe space which sometimes meant a quick 20-minute chat or even an hour refining key themes or ideas. These meetings quickly became a facilitatory environment of guidance and support which I truly came to appreciate.

Truthfully, when I first started my placement, it was difficult to know where to start despite my interest in the area. Given that my topic was on Inclusive Assessment (IA), I found attending the Student Success Forum to meet the dedicated group of academics committed to reducing inequalities in higher education to be insightful. This was when I first realised just how much jargon was used. Pedagogy, hidden curriculum, epistemology, and so on. I remember leaving this meeting and feeling a little out of my depth but very determined to make sense of the existing University strategies and policies. The time following this involved a lot of research on the contemporary landscape of inclusive teaching, branching out of journal articles and books towards websites and blogs too, capturing a more truthful, holistic understanding of IA. With this information, I produced my initial project output: a blog article detailing current practice now available to the public (I shall link this below for anyone interested in what I found!)

From this point on, my primary research began. I conducted semi-structured interviews of academic staff about their understanding of IA and the DAG. This meant I got to do everything. From being coached in qualitative research by a trained professional, Dr Maddie Pownall (something my experience was lacking in due to my degree-level learning of this being disrupted by the first wave of Covid-19!), to writing my own interview schedule, recruiting staff, conducting interviews, and then of course, transcribing, analysing, and interpreting the data. This was for me, the greatest part of the YCEDE placement: to be trusted to take a project area and make it my own.

Since then…

On completion of this research, I created a presentation which I have presented at two conferences thus far. Being invited to speak, to share my findings and have a whole group of esteemed professionals engaging in my research. In response to the overwhelmingly positive feedback at these events, I was then requested by the conference team to share my findings on their website also (see below!), an additional dissemination opportunity which LITE provided extra funding for.

It was around the time I was working on this webpage request when I was encouraged to apply for a PhD. I had only ever met one other person who had gone onto a PhD following a BSc and initially, when the suggestion was made, I was quick to dismiss it. Yet as I worked on my final year dissertation and discussed my aspirations with my dissertation supervisor, Dr Melanie Burke, I realised it would be unfair to not give myself a chance. With the experience I have attained from the YCEDE internship at centre stage and less than one week until the Scholarship deadline, I wrote my PhD application and somehow managed to secure a position at the University of Leeds. It feels strange to think that I start my PhD journey in October 2023, just over a year since completing the YCEDE research. I cannot stress enough how invaluable the experience I got from this placement has been. I am one of the few females in my family with a BSc under my belt and now, I will be the first member in my family to pursue a PhD. Thank you YCEDE. Thank you LITE. Thank you, Pam, Maddie, Layla, and Mel. Thank you all.

Some links to my work so far:

A blog article where I detail the current understandings of the inclusive assessment landscape (Student Success Forum, 2022): https://www.leeds.ac.uk/student-success/doc/inclusive-assessment

Blog article detailing the findings of my research (Student Success Forum, 2022): https://www.leeds.ac.uk/student-success/doc/staff-understanding-perspectives-inclusive-assessment-practices