Dr Nicola Yuill
Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Sussex
"Nuffield students are a very useful audience for explaining our research to a wider audience, as they are very able but not highly knowledgeable in our specific field of study. An important part of our work is to demonstrate the impact of the department's research and the Nuffield programme is a useful way of doing so."
What motivates you to host Nuffield students?
Our local Nuffield Coordinator approached me when my department happened to have some interesting projects taking place over the summer, for which extra help was greatly appreciated. The first experience we had of hosting a student was so positive that it encouraged me to participate further. Our Nuffield students have always been highly motivated with a thirst for learning and working with them has been very rewarding.
The placements have been of mutual benefit. We get data analysed that would have otherwise lingered in a filing cabinet, and our researchers get to develop skills in mentoring and scientific communication. The students get to experience real-life research whilst informally learning a huge amount about university life and the work of professional academics. In many cases, they also gain specific skills which will be of great benefit to them, such as the use of statistical and analytical software.
Our very first placement, in particular, worked very well: the student was able to collect data of sufficient quality for use in a PhD project, which he presented at a full departmental lab meeting. He discussed his research with international experts in the field, sat in on supervision sessions and took a full part in all aspects of life within the department. The student entered his work into the National Science + Engineering Competition where he was able to compare his experiences with other students. He remains in touch with the department and we are keenly awaiting his A-level exam results and subsequent university admission.
How to you go about formulating a research project?
My work focuses on developmental psychology and human-computer interactions. The projects I offer are connected to these areas in some way. This might be collecting data on human behaviour, coding behaviour from videotaped sessions, analysing an existing dataset, providing graphical representations of data for further investigation or assisting with observational studies.
When coming up with a Nuffield project, I look for something that will produce results within a four-week period. Although collecting raw data is a challenge within this time frame, especially with obtaining the necessary ethical permissions, we have found it possible with some careful planning. In essence, a good project needs to be useful to us whilst giving the student some freedom to demonstrate their flair and take ownership of the assignment. We must also ensure that we have appropriate staff resources in place to act as supervisors and mentors to the students which, again, requires sufficient forward planning.