Focus: White Rose DTC Spring Conference, Leeds 7th May 2013

Report by Catherine Smith (University of York)

The White Rose DTC Annual Conference, hosted by the University of Leeds in early May, presented a lively programme of talks and discussions on the theme of ‘The Methods Mix’. The conference brought together postgraduate students from the White Rose DTC and academics from a host of UK universities, and provided a stimulating back-drop for networking as well as a forum for presenting research projects and ideas.

Enlightening talks by Professors Alan Bryman (Leicester) and Stephen Gorard (Durham) set the day off to a good start, presenting techniques for best practise in mixed methods research while also prompting delegates to question their methods choices and their reasons behind these choices. The discussion that followed was animated and at times provocative, setting the scene appropriately for a day of discussion and debate.

383As a speaker on the ‘Methods Choices’ student panel that followed, I was driven to think about my own methods choices in more depth, finding reason and justification for the approach that I had taken so far. The panel was made up of three students from each of the White Rose DTC universities, with methods choices that spanned the full methods spectrum, from qualitative research in Senegalese villages, through mixed methods that combined eye-tracking and animal sounds, to a quantitative analysis of medical data from postnatal women.  The plenary speakers’ contrasting messages provided impetus for the student panel as we presented our approach thus far, outlining the challenges we’d faced and justifying our reasons for making the choices that we had made.

The student input continued into the afternoon, starting with a poster session which 479provided a stage for those wanting an opportunity to talk through their research in a more intimate setting. Again, all aspects of the methods mix were presented through students’ research projects, giving delegates the opportunity to discuss individuals’ choices and experiences in more detail. Some high quality posters were on show during the session, all hoping to win the prize for the best poster at the conference, which went to Nick Addis from Leeds University for the creative depiction of his project on depicting burglary through computer simulation.

549A breakout session in smaller groups gave delegates the opportunity to discuss mixed methods in a more informal setting, where individuals from different disciplines and universities could compare and evaluate their approaches in free discussion. It was clear that there were a number of challenges relating to research design and methods choices, often pertaining to specific subject areas or general approaches used in the social sciences. The students in my breakout group did not only share experiences of challenges faced in research design, but also advice and resources which had helped to advise both the earliest and the later stages of their research. Through talking with postgraduates at different stages of their research projects and with different research experiences I was able to gain a wealth of information relevant to my own approach; no doubt this was the case for many of the delegates partaking in these breakout sessions.

The conference was rounded off with three talks on AQM research, given by students and academics currently using advanced models of quantitative analysis in their research projects. These talks offered an insight into further possibilities for research design, demonstrating how advanced quantitative methods could be applied across disciplines in the social sciences, and providing valuable food for thought for the journey home.

392In all, this year’s ‘Methods Mix’ conference provided an opportunity for students and academics from a broad range of disciplines to gather together around a theme which was highly relevant to all involved. Through questioning approaches, sharing experiences and discussing ideas, delegates were able to understand more about the methods choices available, gaining valuable advice and information from peers as well as more experienced scholars. By taking the focus away from subject-specific research and bringing together paths that would not normally cross, the conference underlined the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, and demonstrated how much can be learned from others’ experiences, no matter how unrelated their field may initially appear.