Reflecting on reflecting


Reflecting on reflecting

Renelle McGlacken and Tansy Alevizopoulos

Lately, the Nottingham team have been reflecting on reflecting. With the AnNex programme in its final phases, we’re considering how we have approached the issue of animal research as different individuals in differing disciplines, brought together to explore the nexus of animal research.

Working on the Animal Research Programme has also provided opportunities to link in with other related projects. For example, over the summer, myself and Pru Hobson-West were pleased to host Tansy Alevizopoulos, an undergraduate student, as part of the Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship scheme at the University of Nottingham. The aim of this scheme is to give students the opportunity to gain experience of academic research. More specifically, the project we designed aimed to analyse the content of the non-technical summaries (NTS) that are produced by project licence applicants in the UK. With the NTS being the only publicly available part of these project applications, they have potential to play a significant role for enacting openness and providing meaningful insights into current research for lay audiences. 

The project offered the opportunity to reflect on the wider social issues that impact on science and medicine and, coming from a background of psychology, Tansy was able to do so in an interdisciplinary way, engaging with sociological approaches to research. Going forward, we hope to explore opportunities to discuss the project’s findings. Yet, as Tansy illustrates below, sometimes more important than the research topic itself are the opportunities for development in the doing of research and the being of a researcher. As Tansy reminds us, reflexivity should involve reflection not only on how we might have changed our area of research, but also on how the process of research might have changed us.

A journey of self-belief: My first experience of an interdisciplinary research project

Tansy Alevizopoulos

After completing my second year of my undergraduate degree studying psychology, I realised I needed two things; money, and work experience. I began looking for a summer job on the university careers portal and found some research assistant jobs being advertised. While I did apply for some of the psychology-based positions, I saw the advert for a project looking into the use of animals in scientific research offered through the University of Nottingham and the Wellcome Trust’s Biomedical Vacation Scholarship and I was immediately interested. This project, based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, would help me to gain more knowledge on a controversial topic alongside the bonus of earning money for research experience.

However, after completing the interview, I was dejected, I stuttered throughout and felt like I was very underqualified as I had no experience in sociology. Days passed, I gave up on researching the project and had resigned myself to working as a cashier or waitress again. Until one day I finally received an email offering me the job! I now had the opportunity to not give up on myself like I did after the interview and prove that I can adapt the skills I’ve learnt in my psychology degree to a sociology topic. In my first meeting with my supervisors (Dr Renelle McGlacken and Professor Pru Hobson-West), we discussed the aim of the project and agreed I would hand in what I have written each week for advice and editing and then eventually present my findings in a Microsoft Teams presentation.

The project aimed to analyse the content of non-technical summaries (NTS) to gain insight into how these forms portray the benefits of the use of animals in research. These NTS are part of applications for a licence to use animals in biomedical science. The aim was to try and ensure that wider publics can access information about realities of the harms and benefits of animal experimentation. The topic was daunting, trying to find a balance between not analysing the linguistics, like I had in A-level English, but also not presenting any opinions as fact, like the university psychology papers I was used to.

After a few weeks I had collected the data and it was time to begin writing the internal report. This was the tricky bit. Every week I had to discuss what I had completed so far with my supervisor, a practice I was not accustomed to. It was slow progress and the amount of advice I needed doubled every week. My supervisor did not let me give up and reassured me that slow progress is still progress. The weekly advice helped build my confidence and refine my ideas, that was until I was reminded of the Microsoft Teams presentation.

Presenting the findings of the research project is a common practice for those publishing scientific and social scientific papers and I was nervous. I lacked confidence in my research, and I was not prepared to embarrass myself in front of esteemed academics who had specialist knowledge on this area. To me, it felt like I was playing dress up in my mum’s clothing, nothing fit, and I looked ridiculous, but I was determined not to give up on myself again. I was like Caesar, crossing the Rubicon of my own self-belief; I was at the point of no return.

Thankfully, I was invited to meet some academics who would be attending my talk at a work picnic. They not only reassured me the talk was to help me solidify my results, but they also warned me that I would become hooked on researching animal ethics and sociology. My presentation went relatively smoothly, it felt like the clothes had begun to fit, and I was more confident in my research and myself. We ended on an interesting discussion on how the NTS can improve which fuelled most of my conclusion, the part I was struggling with the most. After a few more weeks I finally finished, I had gained experience with an online academic talk and writing a report and I had improved my confidence in myself. But above all, I realise they were right; I’m certainly hooked.