A student blog as part of the Doctoral Exchange series organised by the Doctoral College.
This hybrid-format session was held on 21 January 2022. Participants were very informative and enthusiastic, and I want to thank them all.
We discussed several issues, including how the knowledge gap manifested itself in the researchers’ experiences, and what the University could do to bridge this gap and to stop the vicious circle of less development -> less research -> less exposure -> less funding -> less development.
We kicked-off the discussion by asking: If you are joining Bath from a developing country, did you feel others had a head start in terms of academic knowledge? With regards to laboratory equipment, developing countries with limited resources are not able to provide the same equipment and facilities that Bath has, which means researchers coming from these countries might feel behind in understanding what equipment to use and how, the range of tests available and expected results. Some felt that they were expected to have a certain basic theoretical knowledge.
Cross-disciplinary researchers found it extra challenging with the need to quickly get up to speed with the new discipline. Some noted that it seems a norm in the UK to have degree of discipline swapping. Also, the change of discipline meant that plenty of the curriculum they learned was no longer relevant (for example, less consideration of seismic design in UK). We mostly agreed that the curriculum in developing countries currently lags on 'sustainability'. Naturally though, this can vary considerably between developing countries. Someone rightfully pointed out the cultural mismatch, where, for example, one might find difficulty in asking for guidance when not sure what is ‘normal’ and what should be common knowledge.
The discussion turned into trying to answer the second question of: How did your supervisor help you overcome that feeling? One participant mentioned that precious time can be saved, and the feeling of lagging behind their colleagues can be helped if supervisors shared their initial ideas of what information and tests the project needs. They tend not to share this information directly. It is unclear how each supervisor understands or defines the knowledge gap for the student-project configuration. We all agreed that this needs to be initially clarified to smoothly conduct the project. A point was raised on whether it might be fruitful if the supervisor set graded classes for new researchers. How well that might align with the project’s timeline was an outstanding question.
One major question of the session was: Do you feel you had enough exposure to scientific papers, conferences, etc? With high fees charged by journals, which some developing nations cannot afford, many researchers rely on open-access journals, ResearchGate and sci-hub. Whilst accessing good publications was doable in negotiable manners, accessing conferences was another issue. Visas and funding were the major obstacles. Other hindrances were connected to the country’s/organisation’s protocols, in some cases the delay and bureaucracy meant missing the conference.
A question was targeted to students from developed countries, on what they thought mostly affects the quality of research produced? The main answer was confidence. Knowing what equipment may be needed, and if not available in Bath, where it could be accessed elsewhere. This would enable these researchers to pursue idea-led research rather than research that is only availability-led.
A following up question arose: What do you think is the reason why developing nations do not produce enough cutting-edge research? While the short answer would be: all the above, people shared the following thoughts:
- Language barriers – research output delivered in native language not shared in English (this also affects developed non-anglo nations)
- Citation count acts as inequality enhancer – a lot of people/organisations in developed countries are obsessed with citation count, so if your work isn’t getting many citations for other discussed reasons, it is much harder to get views, publish more, win funding etc. even if citation count is ignored in home country
- Organisational systems that are set up to constrain researchers due to political reasons – example how some of former USSR states are still lagging
- Heresy and legality – some researchers are shut out of work on human cells for example due to laws in their country
- Snap judgement filtering – a paper with no English name on it is less likely to be read
Finally, we had to discuss: What can Bath do to bridge the gap of research for students from other nations, in levels of: Individuals, alumni group, and university?
Here are the ideas we came up with:
- Student/alumnus finder - It would be good to set up a method to find alumni with similar language or background to help bridge the society gap
- Social mobility foundation model – something like the great support Bath students receive, but for international students, to help them apply correctly rather than them being in the dark and being subjected to an assessment system they know nothing about
- Remote lab/library sharing - someone can send a request to a Bath student to conduct an experiment that they don’t have the facilities to do. Cons.: difficult to manage time for, needs negotiation with the University over shared resources. Pros.: good lab practice for volunteer, experiments adjacent to your work, it’s an easy way to broaden your knowledge base, collaboration and publication
- South-south tech transfer – facilitate sharing resources with the global south
- Open-source lab equipment – Bath has a great history with this
- Preparing exchange programmes – especially with least developing countries with realistic expectations
- Facilitate movements across countries – e.g. help with visa applications
- Bath ambassadors all over - have ambassadors in different countries
I would like to thank everyone who attended, and special thank you to Patrick Barry who helped by taking the meeting notes.