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10 things I learned at the AGCAS Research Conference 2018

August 2018

Kate Daubney is head of King's Careers & Employability, part of The Careers Group, University of London, and the head of service representative on the AGCAS Research and Knowledge Committee. Here, she shares her main take-away points from the third Annual AGCAS Research Conference.

1. The landscape of our profession is a rich and complex place

The spread of themes covered at the conference showed that, whether the topic of discussion is student guidance, internships, social mobility or disability, school and college support or social justice, the factors impacting our profession have never been so diverse or so interconnected.

2. We need to be agile in our research and practice to respond to this complexity

Striking a balance between exploring ideas in depth and keeping perspective on the bigger picture is a huge challenge, but it's a key part of continuing to deliver responsive, effective careers education and employability development in higher education. We are responding to higher education issues, not just student careers and employability needs.

3. Turning research into practice is a key part of making it useful

The AGCAS Research & Knowledge Committee is particularly concerned with how investigation and exploration in depth co-exists with practical day-to-day service delivery. Presentations in the conference demonstrated that what feels innovative and unexpected also makes practical sense. But this goes the other way too - how can we capture what we do in practical terms in the consultation room with the student, or in conversation with the academic or the employer, to illuminate bigger problems worthy of in-depth examination?

4. Talking compellingly and engagingly about our work will influence the wider landscape and our own services.

Conference speakers were inspirational and insightful, and the range of questions and discussions suggested that research findings are widely relevant, no matter what role you have in a careers service or higher education.

Despite this, there are still too few instances of careers professionals' work being widely quoted outside our own profession or by those in positions of influence, so we need to do more to get our insights and experiences out there.

5. Research is not as difficult as it looks

Enabling and encouraging careers and employability professionals to see their day-to-day practice as potential research material was well supported at the conference, and is a current area of resource development for AGCAS. Research isn't something that only academics do and you don't need a PhD to be a good researcher. In fact, working in higher education careers services provides us with a ready-made environment of discovery and discussion, in which to position ourselves as experts drawing on evidence.

6. Asking good questions is the first step to any research

Research posters and speaker presentations asked:

  • How might our service delivery change if we look at evidence?
  • What do we learn when we join these datasets together?
  • What are the moral and political dilemmas we face in our work?
  • What difference do we want to make when we engage with students?
  • How does a lack of careers service in schools and colleges impact their engagement with us?

These are important questions and, after all, asking questions is our day-to-day business.

7. Great ideas for research can come from anywhere

Presentations were delivered across a spectrum, from theoretical ideas to evidence-based survey data, and were driven by huge social issues or practical economics of service delivery. It was striking that every part of our work with our diverse stakeholders - students, academic partners, higher education institutions and employers - generates new perspectives on what critical issues can and should be addressed to improve our impact.

8. The amount of questions can be overwhelming

As head of King's Careers & Employability, I came away with a huge to-do list from the conference. I was inspired by how effectively colleagues are tackling some of the most important issues surrounding enabling students, but also concerned about many opportunities we don't have the capacity to meet. However, the interconnection of wider themes makes it easier to navigate what's important in my university, and the AGCAS community reassures me that I can call up anyone to get the benefit of their experience and insight.

9. Do we make enough time to learn?

Whether it's labour market information (LMI), emerging evidence of student interests or an institutional strategy, there's always a topic to explore and respond to. The biggest challenge is finding time to share what you've found. AGCAS conferences are a brilliant way to do this, but they often feel like a luxury in a busy schedule. I've tried to replicate that conference feeling at King's, where we've established some whole-team LMI sessions and study days to give everyone the chance to share what they're doing and discovering and have time to think, reflect and discuss.

10. Everyone is a researcher

Research isn't something other people do, it's something we all do. It's done for students, for employers, for academics and for ourselves. When you've finished reading this, ask yourself - 'what new question did I ask in my work today?', because that's how all research begins.

The third Annual AGCAS Research Conference was held at Manchester Metropolitan University on 11 July 2018. The conference theme was 'Research for change: developing evidence-based practice for the benefit of individuals, institutions and society'. The findings from the 2017/18 AGCAS First-year Student Career Readiness Survey were launched at the conference by Dr Bob Gilworth, AGCAS director of Research and Knowledge and AGCAS president-elect.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of HECSU/Prospects

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