Presenting research findings: Tales of the unexpected

A friend getting ready for her viva was given a great bit of advice: there will always be something unexpected which you can only prepare for by accepting it will happen. I was reminded of this following my first experience presenting early findings from my PhD.

I’m investigating what it really takes to change practice, so have asked speech and language therapists about their experiences of practice change. I’m a member of the profession, studying the profession, and I was preparing a lightning talk for research-active members of the profession at the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT) Research Champions day. No pressure…

Throughout the design and implementation of my study I’ve thought carefully about potential ethical implications for the participants and for the profession. I have also been conscious that qualitative research is not yet as familiar to or valued in the profession as other methods. My purpose is to describe and explain how and why practice has come to be as it is. While it is up to potential users of the research to decide whether and how they act on it, I have a responsibility to present the study in a way that they understand the assumptions running through it.

With this in mind, I chose to act out three monologues to show how one aspect of practice has lived on and changed in different ways in different contexts. To help ensure this would work in the way I hoped, I had already tried it out with colleagues at NMAHP RU, at a realist writing retreat, and with my mum. At each stage I used their critical feedback to hone and improve the clarity of my message.

I was curious to find out how I would feel presenting it to members of my profession, and how they would hear it. The nine 7 minute talks were about diverse projects. It was a warm, supportive audience, a number of whom were live tweeting, sparking further exchanges beyond the event. I had expected to be nervous, but to enjoy it, and to get a clear sense of whether my study would resonate.

What I was not prepared for was how profoundly the experience would make me reflect again on the ethical and political dimensions of presenting findings, and on the significance of the relationship between what is being researched and the expectations, ideas and experience the audience (in the room and beyond) brings to that. There is a fine line between presenting research in a way that resonates and in a way that reinforces stereotypes. I hope I didn’t cross it, but will have to remain mindful.

The RCSLT Research Champions day was on Friday 1st July 2016 at City University, London. Research Champions are members of the profession who form a supportive and capacity-building network across the United Kingdom. 

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