De-colonizing: emphasizing the universality of the university

In this post, Dooshima Lilian Dugguh reflects on the De-Colonizing: Past and Present Workshop held on 13 May 2019 in the College of Arts and Law. This two-day multi-disciplinary workshop examined de-colonization in relation to both research and school curricula.


Reading the workshop title “De-colonizing: past and present”, I am sure that several participants had a rough guess that it was centered around discussing historical realities of colonized nations. But I am also certain that many, like me, were amazed at the understanding that beyond the initial idea is a whole new perspective that exports the concept of de-colonization and applies it to academic endeavors such as impactful research and development of academic curricula, giving an opportunity to rethink research and taught patterns of university courses. This workshop underlined two very important aspects: de-colonizing research and de-colonizing curricula.

De-colonizing asks us to examine assumptions regarding racial and civilizational hierarchy which in the past informed a lot of thinking about how the world worked, what was worth studying in it, and how it should be studied.  SOAS blog

When the idea of de-colonizing research comes to mind, it essentially reminds the researcher of some fundamental questions regarding the study they are carrying out such as:

  • What is the purpose of the research?
  • Who is the target audience of the research and how do they access and apply the findings from the research?
  • What are the available resources ensuring the success of the research?
  • What are the perceived challenges?

These questions on a wider scale would also cover explanations such as the reason research materials are unavailable and inaccessible, and how academic structures impede the coverage of research.

De-colonizing curricula, on the other hand, involves questioning the already existing content that is taught to the students. Ensuring that emphasis is not laid on some aspects of the curriculum more than, or at the detriment of, others. This is to ensure a welcoming university environment that represents the interests of its trans-global students by:

  • Inclusion of minority cultural histories in curricula.
  • Examining how research can be promoted in these cultural areas putting into perspective interest, financial involvement as well as the role of language in the realization of this goal.
  • Opening discussion forums between staff and management regarding development of curriculum content aimed at embracing cultural studies.
  • Giving students the opportunity to identify their interests in line with what the curriculum offers devoid of stereotypical decision by management concerning the student’s needs.
  • Ensuring student development and satisfaction with regards to what they are taught there by widening the cultural scope of studies.

Attending the workshop, I realized that it was a great opportunity for postgraduate researchers to explore this topic, as well as teaching assistants. Such workshops create avenues for intellectual skill acquisition and development by cross examining the quality of the taught content in university courses as well as creating room for the development of managerial skills.

In the wake of all that has been highlighted, the following questions are therefore up for discussion:

  • Do you think de-colonizing research ensures quality research work?
  • Is it possible to include minority cultural histories in the curriculum? What would be the possible challenges?
  • How can students’ interests be gauged with regards to the study of cultural histories?

In my opinion, de-colonizing academic research and academic curricula in general is fundamental to enhancing inclusivity and universality of the university.

Sending your research out into the world

On Wednesday 19 June 2019, there is a deadline for PGRs hoping to graduate in July to complete all the requirements for the award of their research degree.  Among a few other things, this includes submitting an electronic copy of your thesis to the University of Birmingham eTheses repository.

deposit etheses screenshot

Depositing your thesis is a great opportunity to engage with Open Research. Making your research openly available without any barriers is recognised as benefiting both the public and scholarly endeavour, speeding up progress and improving research quality and integrity.  The UoB eTheses repository receives over a million downloads per year and provides an important route for exposing your research to the world, allowing others to discover it and benefit from your work.  If people can access your thesis, they are more likely to cite it in their own research, helping to develop your own impact upon your field.  Thus, when you deposit your thesis and are asked to select an access option, it is highly recommended that you choose Option A (fully accessible).  In addition to sharing your thesis openly, you can also make data and software underlying your thesis openly available. Some guidance to get you started on that is available on our Research Data Management pages.

Of course there may be legitimate reasons why you can’t make your theses open access immediately and we provide several access options:

  • Option A: fully accessible
  • Option B: electronic version available upon request until specified end date
  • Option C: electronic version restricted until specified end date
  • Option D: full embargo (hard and electronic copy) until specified end date

The most common reason for not choosing Option A is having a commercial agreement in place.  You might also be concerned about sensitive data in your thesis, though in such circumstances you should discuss options for anonymisation with your supervisor and your thesis can then be openly available with some information redacted.  If you are concerned about the impact of open access on your ability to publish a monograph from your thesis, please check with potential publishers – most of them don’t have such restrictions in place. With pre-prints now becoming more established, most journals won’t object to you submitting an article based on research made openly available via your thesis.

If you are thinking about restricting access, you should check the conditions of any funding you have received. It is increasingly a condition of funding that your thesis is made openly available within a reasonable time from graduation.

As with any research publication, you will need to ensure your thesis complies with copyright legislation.  In short, you should only include third party created material if it is out of copyright, your usage falls under fair dealing, you have obtained permission, or a suitable reuse licence is in place.  You can find out more on the library’s copyright pages.

On the thesis guidance section of the Library Services webpages, you can find out more about your access options and get detailed instruction on how to upload your thesis.

What factors will you consider when deciding which access option to select for your thesis?  What does open access publishing (of theses or journal articles) mean to you?

Fighting procrastination

Oh, how easy it is to put things off, especially if those things are difficult, ill-defined or repetitive.  Or if your deadline isn’t for a few years yet.  Unfortunately, that’s a pretty good description of postgraduate research, so a postgraduate research degree is fertile ground for a tendency for procrastination to flourish.

procrastination, n. The action or habit of postponing or putting something off. [OED]

Let’s learn a little bit more about procrastination and why it happens, but note that procrastination can become a habit for lots of reasons (or a combination of reasons) so if you are struggling with persistent procrastination, you may want to explore some of the counselling options available to you via the Mental Health and Wellbeing Service.
Continue reading “Fighting procrastination”

Making the “e” in e-mail stand for “effective” many e-mails do you receive in a day?  How many e-mails do you think your supervisor receives in a day?  A typical supervisor might receive well over 100 e-mails every day.  What can you do to help make e-mail an effective communication tool between you and your supervisor when your supervisor has so many messages to deal with?

The Thesis Whisperer has discussed this a couple of times, with excellent posts on a supervisor’s perspective on the “tyranny of tiny tasks” that often result from e-mail, and inter-cultural e-mail communication.  Here are some additional strategies that I use when communicating with colleagues (including academic colleagues) by e-mail. Continue reading “Making the “e” in e-mail stand for “effective””

Don’t ‘plan,’ just ‘do’: how to let your career find you during your PhD

This post, written by our very own PGR Careers Advisor Holly Prescott, was previously published on the FindAPhD blog.  It follows on nicely from Shana’s posts before Christmas (part 1 and part 2) on her “extra-curricular” activities.

In the autumn of my second PhD year, after 3 glasses of 99p wine (stipend-allowing), I reluctantly agreed to help a friend out running campus tours at the University’s Postgraduate open day. I knew I’d have to walk around on the day with a lime-green, plastic ‘here to help’ sign, like a weird student-recruiting Lollipop Lady. But… my hob was broken and there was a free dinner in it for me. So I said yes.

A University of Birmingham Open Day

The truth? Green lollipop aside, I actually sort of enjoyed it. I enjoyed the simplicity of being helpful. So for the next year, I carried on helping with campus tours and advising at open days and other events. It gave me a break from my niche research. It gave me perspective. It even gave me a few extra quid to get my hob fixed. Continue reading “Don’t ‘plan,’ just ‘do’: how to let your career find you during your PhD”

In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

etheses infographic cropped

A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing.  Continue reading “In the footsteps of others”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”