Researching the Student Researchers

Experiences, challenges and outcomes

The Researching the Student Researchers aspect of the Challenging Sustainability project has explored the value gained for students from their involvement in this project. Altogether, nine Massey University students from a range of disciplines and at different stages of study were involved in ‘living-lab’ research. Student experiences varied from one another in terms of what they did, and what they gained from the experience overall.

Most students were invited to be involved in the various projects some months before their official involvement began, and were initially happy about the invitation. In the words of one student, this was a “really exciting opportunity…well timed…really cool work to be doing that is directly applicable to my study”; while another individual said this was “stuff that I’m passionate about”. For one person, it was the opportunity to work with someone that they really admired: “I was really excited that I was working with someone who I believed was really visionary”.

The roles that students ultimately ended up being involved in varied tremendously: modelling projects, design work, information gathering, literature reviews, communicating information, interviewing, research planning, attending meetings, organising and planning events and learning to use new computer programmes. The experiences noted as being most interesting for different students varied quite substantially, and included the following:

“What I found interesting is how little everybody knows and how much they do know. You have got this whole network of people who are quite good at what they do individually, but you talk to one person and they have no idea what the other person has done and that makes it difficult I suppose, but it’s interesting to see how the whole business kind of works ….”.

And:

“It’s interesting to see all the politics involved in such a huge project …. And it is interesting to see who has what to say, and who wins”.

As is usual for research projects, there were a number challenges faced by students, including around doing certain tasks: “stuff that I thought would be so straight forward has been so very, very challenging…”; and getting tasks completed on time: “The speed at which I’m required to get stuff out, and sort of balancing that with all the other stuff going on…”. Building relationships as part of the research project proved difficult: “It’s quite tricky to get your foot in the door… they don’t know what you’re up to and who you are and what your role is and what you’re trying to achieve”; as did the magnitude of the research project: “It’s stressful because it’s a big job. …so much of this is new … it’s a different language. It’s been really daunting, it’s been hard; [but] because it’s challenging its … fun”.

Students for the most part, as expressed in the last quote (above), although finding various struggles in what they were doing, also found the experience rewarding in a number of ways. At times if offered an opportunity to apply personal values in a research environment, or the research experience provided an avenue toward further education or work experience.

The range of experiences, opportunities and challenges contributed to enriching students’ experiences in diverse ways. The summer scholarship initiative has provided a process through which students can gain research and teamwork experience, learn new skills, and develop a fuller understanding of the intricacies involved in research projects that involve multiple interests and approaches.