Science - November 18, 2004

Gallery walk: ‘Research is a personal enterprise’

A group of PhD and MSc students organised a Gallery Walk last week to increase awareness of personal development in relation to PhD research projects. A piece of useful advice emerged: ‘Try to look at your own personal growth as a development project’.

‘You cannot do research in a community if you are not prepared to critically evaluate your own role in the process. If you are not really involved, you cannot expect your research to have impact.’ Carolina Camacho, a Mexican doing PhD research on traditional seed systems, was one of the 14 students who tried to convince fellow students of the importance of personal development during a Gallery Walk on Friday 12 November.

Along a corridor in the IMAG-building the students presented the insights they had gained from the workshop Competences for Integrated Agricultural Research. The walls were covered with posters with keywords and drawings. Discovery results from Dream, Design and Destiny, claimed one of the posters. In what way does this relate to science? ‘Researchers rely too much on the right side of their brains, but we should not forget the left side, the side that harbours emotion. This side relates to the competences we use when we interact with other people. Science is not a merely mechanical process,’ says Shrirpakashsingh Rajput, a PhD researcher from India who is studying multi-stakeholder platforms in river basin management.

Both Rajput and Camacho were impressed by the role-play exercise they did during the workshop, which was intended to demonstrate the unpredictable behaviour of social systems. In the game all participants had to behave according to the instructions they were given, and the leader’s task was to convince the community to leave the room. Rajput played the leader. ‘I suggested inviting everyone to a wedding party, because in India they are very important. No one wants to miss a wedding. However, it turned out some participants found this approach very pushy and were not prepared to move. It shows we all carry our assumptions with us and you should always keep your mind open to differences in cultural background.’

Dr Conny Almekinders of the Technology and Agrarian Development group, who organised the workshop in collaboration with Communication and Innovation Studies, was pleased that the participants were so eager to share their experiences. The origin of the workshop lies in the Participatory Approaches and Up-scaling (PAU) programme, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, which focuses on interdisciplinary research for smallholders' agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Almekinders: ‘In this type of integrated research personal competences are crucial for effective collaboration in teams and with end-users. In the workshop we present tools that the PhD students can use in their research. They are useful in their working environment as well as in community-related research, but they also relate to the personal competences of the students, vital if you want to address problems related to social order, change and conflict.’/ GvM

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