Today was a double workshop session for new doctoral researchers.
In the first session we were introduced to the Research Development Framework (RDF) Planner. This provides a mechanism through which you can assess your current level of capability across a range of skills, establish what actions might be needed to move forward in areas of priority and what training needed to support that. The system also requires you to submit evidence of progress towards those targets you’ve set for yourself. In many senses, it’s an eportfolio system which supports and guides the development of your professional skills.
I think it would be fair to say that it wasn’t universally received with joy and delight. Engagement with the RDF Planner is a requirement for passing through different stages of the postgraduate process, so the message that sends (or perhaps the way that is received!) may be a contributory factor; especially so if you’re undertaking your PhD part-time, whilst in full-time employment. Personally, having the luxury of full-time study, and being used to performance management processes, I see this as a positive benefit. It monitors progress, suggests remedial training where you perceive a shortcoming in your capability, captures the experiences you’ve undertaken and draws together the skills you’ve developed. What’s not to like?
The second session introduced Library Services. (Interesting that it’s still called a Library, rather than taking the epithet so often used in schools these days – Learning Centre). Although I’m fairly familiar with using the Library systems, I’m also well aware that I’m perhaps limited and just using the aspects I’ve become familiar with from my earlier studies. Having an ‘expert’ whisk you through the complete range of services was always going to surface a few new facilities which might be of use. For instance, I hadn’t appreciated that I can ‘borrow’ a laptop for 24 hours … for free! OK, I’m fairly well sorted for tech, but if I’m cycling in and struggling to lug the Chromebook … or need a portable computer with Uni. Applications on. All good. It was also helpful to get an overview of the Library Search tool and see some of the additional capabilities I’d missed. It’s now much more powerful than I remember it previously, linking much more swiftly through to the journal articles it finds.
What really jumped out at me though was RefWorks, the citation and reference management application the Uni subscribes to on our behalf. Now since my first Masters, I’ve been a Zotero user and have become familiar with the facilities it offers. It’s also ‘open’ and free which appeals more to my sensibilities than a proprietary application. However, I have to say I was impressed with RefWorks, not least how easy it was to add references to your account (no easier than Zotero, but not requiring a browser add-on). What I really liked though was ‘Write-N-Cite‘ a plugin for Word which links to your RefWorks database, allows you to select a particular reference then add it, in-line, correctly formatted, with a couple of clicks. (Zotero isn’t quite as slick in that regard; nor does it have the SHU Harvard style at the moment. A job for me later!) Not quite decided yet whether to start from scratch with RefWorks, keeping it just for my PhD, stick with Zotero or run both together (I know; the latter will only result in tears.). I could also import all my Zotero references into RefWorks, or indeed go with my first option, then at the end, export all of the new stuff across into Zotero. Decisions, decisions!