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Evaluating undergraduate research conferences as vehicles for novice researcher development

Pauline Kneale (Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO), Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK)
Andrew Edwards-Jones (Faculty of Science and Engineering, Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK)
Helen Walkington (Department of Social Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Jennifer Hill (Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 14 November 2016




This paper aims to focus on the undergraduate research conference as its sphere of study and investigate the impact of significance of participation and socialisation in such activities on student attitudes and professional development. Using situated learning to theoretically position the undergraduate research conference as an authentic learning context, connection is also made with the concept of graduate attributes.


The Vitae (2014) Researcher Development Framework (RDF) is used to provide a template for charting the experiences and development of undergraduate students as researchers. This can be applied to short-term activities and programmes and to long-term career plans. The insights from 90 undergraduate students participating in three national undergraduate research conferences were obtained through interviews, and thematically analysed to map the students’ skills development against the RDF criteria.


Three main aspects of undergraduate research conference participation were considered particularly important by the students: the value of paper presentations, the value of poster presentations and the value of the overall conference experience. Within these themes, participants identified a wide range of skills and attributes they felt they had developed as a result of either preparing for or participating in the conferences. The majority of these skills and attributes could be mapped against the different domains of the RDF, using a public engagement lens for comparing actual with expected developmental areas.

Research limitations/implications

This research helps undergraduate research conference organisers construct programme content and form it in such a way that students’ skill development can be maximised prior to, and during, the course of an event. Learning developers can also use these findings to help understand the support needs of students preparing to deliver papers at such conferences. So far, little empirical research has examined students’ skills development within the undergraduate research conference arena.


The outcomes of this study show the diversity of the skills that students developed and the value of the conference format for offering networking practice and enhancing the communication skills which employers value.



Kneale, P., Edwards-Jones, A., Walkington, H. and Hill, J. (2016), "Evaluating undergraduate research conferences as vehicles for novice researcher development", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 159-177.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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