August 31, 2022, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

My placement with the Digital Nottingham project

Katherine Bird, a PhD student from the School of Psychology, on her placement with Digital Nottingham.

Katherine Bird

I am a PhD student in the School of Psychology. I began my PhD during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, I spent the first year at home and missed out on a lot of research, teaching, and learning opportunities usually presented to 1st-year PhD researchers. Since restrictions eased, I have been keen to make up for this and seek opportunities to develop skills to benefit my PhD and future research career. My supervisor told me about a short placement opportunity with Digital Nottingham, which I applied for and was excited to be awarded.

Digital Nottingham is an initiative by the University of Nottingham which aims to create opportunities for people in the East Midlands. The University is developing its newly acquired Castle Meadow Campus as a welcoming space bringing together communities, researchers, business, and other organisations and provide opportunities to develop their digital and tech skills.

The project required me to organise and hold focus group sessions with the young people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. I arranged focus groups at Nottinghamshire schools and education centres. They were introduced to Digital Nottingham and asked what they would like to see and do in the space and potential barriers to using the site. The placement provided the opportunity to develop my questioning skills and to manage a focus group of young people.

I have run focus groups before, but with adults. Sessions with young people were different insofar they talked over each other a lot and I frequently had to manage the group and remind them to allow one another to speak. Also, some were less confident, and it was challenging to encourage them to speak, or write their ideas down. I tried different techniques and, ultimately, all participants were included in the discussion. Engaging with young people and learning these techniques will be hugely beneficial to my future research career. It is also immediately beneficial to my PhD because I am currently recruiting young people for a focus group study. The interview techniques used in the Digital Nottingham focus groups will ensure I can question and manage focus groups with young people better than had I not done this placement.

The placement also helped developed my writing skills. I am currently writing a report of findings. This is less formal than a research paper, but I am thematically analysing the data and writing it as a formal report. This is challenging as I am less-used to writing a business-style report. However, this type of writing is useful as it is similar to policy and recommendation reports commonly produced to disseminate psychological findings to the general public. Finally, the placement really boosted my confidence. Starting my PhD in lockdown has meant I have spent a lot of time alone and having meetings online. Meeting young people in-person and engaging with them reminded me that we are social beings and I enjoyed the human interaction. Overall, the experience was enjoyable and rewarding, and gave me skills I will use throughout my career.

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