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Evaluating undergraduate research conferences as vehicles for novice researchers and transferable skills development

Kneale, Pauline; Edwards-Jones, Andrew; Walkington, Helen; Hill, Jennifer


Pauline Kneale

Andrew Edwards-Jones

Helen Walkington

Jenny Hill
Associate Professor in Teaching and Learning


Purpose - This paper focuses on the undergraduate research conference as its sphere of study and investigates the 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 to the concept of graduate attributes.

Design/methodology/approach - 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 as well as to long-term career plans. The insights from 90 undergraduate students participating at three national undergraduate research conferences were obtained through interviews, and thematically analysed to map the students’ skills development against the RDF criteria.

Findings - 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 were able to 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 in such a way that student skills 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.

Originality/value - The outcomes of this study show the diversity of skills students developed, and the value of the conference format to offer networking practice and to enhance the communication skills which employers value.


Kneale, P., Edwards-Jones, A., Walkington, H., & Hill, J. (2016). Evaluating undergraduate research conferences as vehicles for novice researchers and transferable skills development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 7(2), 178-191.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 25, 2016
Publication Date Sep 1, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 30, -0001
Journal International Journal for Researcher Development
Print ISSN 1759-751X
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 2
Pages 178-191
Keywords undergraduate research conference, communication, researcher development framework, employability skills, student development
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This is an accepted version of an article published in the International Journal for Researcher Development. The final version is available at http://www.emeraldinsig....1108/IJRD-10-2015-0026


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