Lifting the lid on the research process

Reflections on the student partnership programme at Newman University

At the beginning of 2016, the team at the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society (CSKBS) launched their first student partnerships at Newman University. The main aim of the project was to engage the student population in the process of research on two of the Centre’s projects: God’s in Mind and Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. We hoped to mentor the students as they were introduced to the various stages of the research process, guiding them through the ups and downs of being a researcher. Below is a reflection, by both the students and the team, on the successes and the challenges of the student partnership project.

I am a psychology undergraduate and have just completed the 2nd year of my degree.  I was very interested in this research experience, as I believed it would enable me to enhance my skills in research and data analysis as well as give me better insight into how to conduct research for the last year of my psychology degree.  I also believed it would give me a better idea of how research is conducted in the real world.

– Sunya Hafiz, 2nd year psychology undergraduate

During my first year of Theology, the modules I took such as the work placement module emphasized individuality and doing something that would make me stand out from others on my course. Plenty of opportunities arose, but none I was willing to devote time to alongside my part-time job and studies. What interested me about this research opportunity primarily was that it involved a Theological aspect; it also would allow me to grow in my understanding of academic practice.  More importantly this project allowed me to see and understand how academia merges with, and impacts on, wider society.

– Alisha Aggrey, 1st year theology undergraduate


Predictors of time spent describing religious and atheist scientists – working with student partner Sunya Hafiz

Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum (SRES) is a multi-disciplinary research project that has been running since February 2015. During that time the research team has been carrying out qualitative, quantitative and experimental research into perceptions of religion and biological evolution. This student partnership was part of a larger sub-theme within the SRES project investigating the extent to which people think of atheist scientists as stereotypical and religious scientists as counter-stereotypicalIn this project, we analysed data from a study in which people were asked to describe religious scientists and atheist scientists with 20 attributes (e.g. intelligent, naughty etc.).  In particular, we investigated which factors are related to the amount of time participants took to complete this list of attributes.  These factors include personal identification with science and religion, personal need for structure, students’ subject of study, and other demographic variables.

The project topic was very interesting, building on previous research on counter stereotypical groups and exploring factors related to perceptions of religious and atheist scientists. Counter stereotypes are concepts that go against stereotypic expectations. So a “religious scientist” would likely be classed as a counter stereotype as it is a combination that society may not usually put together.

– Sunya Hafiz, 2nd year psychology undergraduate


Conceptualising the Divineworking with student partner Alisha Aggrey

Have you ever wondered how people think about God?  Do they see God as comprising separate identities (e.g. the Christian Trinity) or as playing interconnected roles in their lives (e.g. as a protector or guide)?  Have you ever considered the impact of these differences? Is a certain view of God more beneficial for day-to-day life? In our latest research project, Gods in Minds: Conceptualising the Divine, our team is examining differences in how people conceptualise God and some of the consequences this has in their day-to-day lives.  In this student project, we used linguistic analysis to help us identify some of the various ways people think about God. We then explored the impact of these differences on several measures of well-being (i.e. resilience, satisfaction with life, depression, and self-esteem).

I entered into the project with much more pessimistic feelings towards research than those that I now have, especially concerning the field of psychology.  I had the impression that the results of such research were based more upon finding evidence to support a given hypothesis, rather than actually researching to find genuine results. However, after my time spent on the project, I have come to realize that researchers, aided by statistical analysis programs, work hard to provide accurate findings. I also realized how difficult it is to conduct research: at every level there are obstacles. For example, attracting participants to collect data was a challenge despite the many generous incentives provided. It seemed when I spoke to potential participants they also had the former understanding of research that I had; this made data collection particularly difficult.

– Alisha Aggrey, 1st year theology undergraduate


By engaging in the partnership, we hoped the students would learn a bit more about how research is conducted. From literature reviews to developing hypotheses, to gathering data based on these hypotheses, analysing the data and writing up results. Within each of the projects the students had a chance to take part in most of these stages, following the research process from start to finish.

We tailored the process based on a variety of student needs. For instance, students have to complete a research project during their third year, so the experience of engaging with research early on in their degrees will benefit them later in their degrees. In addition, however, there were also hidden benefits to the partnership projects. For example, having students deal with real life research frustrations, such as unsupported hypotheses, prolonged data collection and data entry, helped them see behind the veil of the research process, thus being better informed when making future decisions regarding their own professional careers.

My part in the project included coding, statistical analysis, and writing up a report of the data whilst interpreting the findings. I learned a lot from this experience but some of the key things I learned included the ability to understand the data and coming up with possible interpretations of the findings, hence producing hypotheses that can be further researched. I was also able to increase my skills using the statistical analysis program SPSS, whilst also increasing my understanding of the outcomes and being able to interpret findings. As well as skills relating to research, I was able to enhance my skills in organisation, time keeping and the ability to work more independently. At the end of the project, I had the chance to present my data to an audience, which increased my level of confidence and ability to convey what we had found clearly to the audience by defining statistical terms. The partnership gave me an insight into the processes behind research; this includes the processes in coding data, removing outliers, looking at the types of data gathered—i.e. categorical or continuous—and interpreting findings.

– Sunya Hafiz, 2nd year psychology undergraduate

Once enough data had been manually entered analysis began, this by far was the most challenging for me! This was very mathematical, which as a sufferer of dyscalculia was difficult for me. However, despite the challenge, it became the most enjoyable part for me, because this is where findings emerge and hypotheses are tested. Here, the team can reap the fruits of their labour.  I especially enjoyed looking at how a participant’s demographic factors (education, age, socio-economic status, gender and age) affected their results.  

– Alisha Aggrey, 1st year theology undergraduate


The students rose impressively to many of the research challenges. When the project began, they had a little over a month to complete the data collection and data entry parts of the research process. This meant lots of hours squeezed into a shortened time, alongside their regular coursework and other student roles. However, they managed to organise their time and get everything completed to schedule. They showed a willingness to eagerly learn each task and to improve in whatever skills were necessary for accuracy, even when this meant repeating the same processes.

Overall this experience has made me more knowledgeable of how to conduct research, which will enable me to conduct my own research project in the third year of my psychology degree.

– Sunya Hafiz, 2nd year psychology undergraduate

 I now think the place of research is very important. I firmly believe young academics should be encouraged to conduct more research. Following the final presentation, I feel research into psychology – and especially psychology of religion – is imperative for society and affects people of all religious and world views.  I am glad to have taken part in this project at such an early stage in my degree, and to be able to share my positive experience with other students also thinking of doing research.

– Alisha Aggrey, 1st year theology undergraduate


The team thinks the partnership was a great success. All the students put great effort into the research process, and we feel they overcame the challenges which they faced. The students’ end of project presentations were well developed and explained, showing they had grasped some core aspects of performing research. Within the centre we are strongly committed to lifting the lid on our research, which can often seem opaque to those who aren’t involved in it. We look forward to developing our student partnerships further next year and would encourage anyone in the sector to consider similar schemes within their own institution.