GUEST BLOGGER: WALKING WITH THE SCOTTISH GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND HUMANITIES—AN INSPIRATIONAL EXPERIENCE (PART ONE)

 

Matluba Khan, a PhD Candidate in Architecture and Landscape Architecture at University of Edinburgh’s College of Art, speaks to the beginning of her journey toward being SGSAH’s first Thinker-In-Residence, through participation in SGSAH’s Policy Stories and Legacy Resources. 

‘You have done a Ph.D. You have written a 100,000 word thesis.

So what?’

 

Most PhD researchers in Arts and Humanities are often haunted by this question inside their mind even before completing the thesis. For my part, finding myself in the third year of my Ph.D. and working hard to pull everything together, I am often asked—what’s next? It’s difficult to predict where my research can, let alone will, take me, or conversely, to whom I can take my research. However, attending some of the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities programs has helped me think about these questions from a number of new and different perspectives through exposure to other scholars, policy makers (yes, the people who really do make the policies!), researchers who were successful in contributing to evidence-based policy, people who are working to elevate evidence up through relevant policy levels, and practitioners using evidences from research in their works. And these connections, and the ways they’ve helped me conceive of my own research, has been invaluable.

 

Given my Ph.D. focus—through which I am examining the potentials of a designed outdoor primary school environment on children’s learning through experimental action research—my work is primarily practice-driven, whereas many of my Arts-and-Humanities colleagues are working more specifically in theory. For my part, I have worked directly with children, teachers and community members to develop a school yard in a Government Primary School in Bangladesh, where I was able to observe how children interacted with different elements of said schoolyard and collect relevant data to evaluate the impact of the design against my hypothesis that “a well-designed outdoor environment can motivate children learn through exploration of the environment and interacting with peers”.

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While the potential impact for such research is vast, the pathways for influencing the necessary policy are not always straightforward or clear to Ph.D. students.

 

The Policy Stories Workshop, organized by SGSAH in November 2014, was my first exposure to bridging this divide, showing me how policy is made and where my research fits into ‘evidence-based policy-making’. The connections I made through Policy Stories helped me navigate my way toward policy-making talks and seminars more specific to my discipline.

 

One such seminar I found myself eligible for was one on Outdoor Education, which is clearly related to my own Ph.D. research in Landscape Architecture because of its interdisciplinary nature. Applying the Policy Stories legacy resources alongside my own experiences, I came to see how outdoor education research is currently influencing policy in Scotland, and began thinking through how my focus on the context of Bangladesh might have applicable parallels for later continuation or connections with international policies.

I also had the opportunity to say a few words at the launching ceremony of the Legacy Resources that grew out of the immense productivity of the Policy Stories Workshop. I also came to learn how some of my fellow participants had benefitted from the workshop; because of my studies in a practice based discipline, I openly acknowledge limitations in my ability to visualize practical implications of theory based research, and therefore learning from Claire Hawes about how she benefitted from training as a historian. What other participants are doing might not be directly related to my thesis, but their experiences can help us to see things differently within our own research. These collaborative initiatives through SGSAH helped highlight the immense benefits of such interactions and reframings, and provided an opportunity to engage them actively with my colleagues from across the nation.

These experiences in and following up on the Policy Stories Workshop further inspired Matluba to apply for SGSAH’s Thinker-In-Residency Program, where she served as SGSAH’s inaugural Thinker-In-Residence. In Part Two of her blog, she’ll offer further reflections on this experience.

 

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