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Research Methods Café

Co-hosted with Durham’s Advanced Research Computing and Research Data Management Teams, join our virtual interdisciplinary conversations on practical and fundamental research methods topics. Check out the range of topics being discussed. Opinion pieces based on many of our Cafe Conversations are published on our Durham Research Methods Conversations Blog.

The series is open to tutors at all Higher Education Institutions, including post-graduate students and staff.  Please register here to access the virtual conversations and we’ll send you the Teams links.

Durham colleagues can access the Teams Conversations channel directly here.

Michaelmas Term 2021

This term's conversations are all about Teaching Research Methods and are being led by Adrian Millican.

13th October - Teaching Week 2 - 1200-1300

An Introduction: Method in the Madness - This session will introduce the aims and objectives of the Teaching Methods Conversation Series. Increasingly across disciplines, methodological rigour is becoming a greater part of the student learning experience. Whereas a tertiary understanding of methods might have sufficed in previous years, the growing plethora of methods and increasingly vast data resources require students to have significant methodological skills and understandings. This introductory session will start off with a brief discussion of what we hope to achieve through these sessions and will be followed by an open discussion of how methods teaching has changed within different disciplines and more importantly where we think methods teaching is going.

 27th October - Teaching Week 4 - 1200-1300

The Problem with Method - In this second session, we want to explore the primary issues that you face when teaching methods; whether qualitative or quantitative. What are the main challenges? Is student engagement as strong as you’d like? Are students afraid of methods, or do they not make clear links to why methods matter? This session will provide an opportunity to discuss the challenges of methods teaching, learn about similarities and differences in experiences. The information gathered will be used to structure Epiphany term sessions that target the problems we as teachers of methods face.

10th November - Teaching Week 6 - 1200-1300

Sharing Approaches, Tips and Online Resources for Teaching Quantitative Research Methods - Within separate disciplines, techniques for training quantitative research methods are often passed between tutors and adapted over the years, yet many of the challenges to teaching research methods are shared across disciplines. This interdisciplinary forum will provide the opportunity for tutors to share effective teaching practice across disciplines, identifying approaches, tips and online resources that tutors can draw on for their own research methods teaching practice.

In a change to the original schedule, this will be the final session in this mini-series but not end of the conversation! We're planning a Teaching Research Methods workshop for later in the academic year and will be inviting expressions of interest for topics.


Easter Term 2021

5th May

Research Interview Techniques - A conversation across disciplines to share challenges and top tips for conducting research interviews in a variety of research contexts.

12th May

What do Research Software Engineers (RSEs) do, and how can they help me? - The term of Research Software Engineering is popping up more and more often in research discussions, on grant funding calls and on board meetings. The CovidSim scandal, when there was an outcry about the quality of the Covid Simulation software that informed UK Covid policies, even brought brief media-attention to the topic that is at the heart of research software engineering: That researchers are not and cannot be experts in software engineering for their research projects, but that they need professionals on their team to help with these aspects.

In this session we want to introduce the central RSE group at Durham University, chat about our work, and have a discussion about how we as RSEs can help you with your research. We also would like to hear your views on how we can become more visible (and thus more useful) within the wider research community, not only in the classical computational fields.
19th May
Decolonising Artificial Intelligence Part II - Building on the first Decolonising AI conversation, this cross-faculty discussion will develop interdisciplinary research ideas concerning the nature of biases in learning algorithms and training data used in artificial intelligence.
26th May
Generalizability - How do different forms of generalizability play a role in research practice across disciplines, shaping forms of enquiry and trajectories of knowledge generation and understandings? How are judgements of research quality affected by an output’s generalizability? We seek to explore interdisciplinary ideas for research on generalizability cutting across qualitative and quantitative research paradigms.
2nd June
50 ways to Lose Your DataWill your research data remain usable in 25 years?  It depends.  Digital data can become unusable for many reasons.  Data might be stored in a file format which is not readable in the future.  Data might be stored on an obsolete device.  Data might be deleted accidentally.  Hardware failure can cause data loss.  Some data is lost simply by sitting on a static storage device.  Let’s talk about horror stories (data loss) and following best RDM practices to ensure data remains usable (and findable).
9th June
Better Software, Better Research: the Software Sustainability Institute - The Software Sustainability Institute cultivates better, more sustainable, research software to enable world-class research. Alison Clarke will give a brief introduction to the SSI, following which we’ll discuss how we can ensure our software is sustainable, as well as ways in which the SSI can help.
16th June
Co-productionCo-production is a contested term and one that in recent years has been in danger of becoming little more than a buzzword. What then is co-production? How can we begin to answer that question? What are the benefits and challenging of doing co-produced research? How might it be done well? What mechanisms drive high quality co-production? And what future steps are needed to drive co-production forward?
23rd June
Moving Between DisciplinesThis session is intended as a discussion around the theme of what it means to move between disciplines. How transferable are skills and experiences from one discipline to another? How strict are the divisions between disciplines? What is involved in the process of crossing into new fields? Can ideas from one field be of use in another where the themes might overlap but the logic of the fields might be far removed from one another? Mark Turner, a Research Software Engineer at ARC, will start the session with some very brief thoughts on what it meant to move into software engineering after a History degree. 

Epiphany Term 2021

13th January
Research Data Management Practices - Comparing notes on current research data management practices across the university and what would an ideal research data management system at Durham look like.


20th January
Decolonizing Artificial Intelligence - building on last term's interdisciplinary discussions of machine learning and data science, and our workshop on Decolonising Research Practice, we'll discuss how is AI biased? Does it reinforce colonial patterns and processes? What can be done about this?


27th January
Quality control and Software Development Practices - How can you be sure your statistical analysis or software is doing what you expect? How can you make sure others will be able to use it and reproduce your results? We’ll discuss testing, version control, continuous integration, containerization, and other ways to improve your software.


3rd February
Sharing Best Data and Project Management Practices for Organising Data and Avoiding Digital Clutter - How do you organise your data files so they can be easily found months/years in the future? By theme? By project? Another way? How do you organise files that are used in multiple projects or in multiple contexts? How do you manage versioning? How do you decide what is worth keeping?


10th February
Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis to Evaluate Causal Relations in Complex Open Systems - building on last term's discuss on Causation, how can a broad range of methods be integrated to address causation in systems that exhibit properties that emerge from interactions between the system's components and are subject to external influence? Examples of such systems can be found across all four University Faculties, from the natural sciences to art and the humanities.


17th February
Method and Theory: an entangled mutualism? Methods and theory can coevolve as developments in one affect the other. How does this play out across different disciplines? How is theory shaped by methodological affordance? What kind of methods have been developed in response to theoretical motivation? What key research questions would you love to address but for methodological constraints?


24th February
Pedagogy and research methods training. An exchange of ideas across disciplines over effective teaching practice. What types of research method content are commonly perceived as steep learning curves? What are effective techniques to provoke enthusiasm for research methods? What approaches are effective to counteract imposter syndrome? What opportunities does online/blended teaching offer? What are effective approaches to encourage diverse engagement?


3rd March
Experiences of working in an interdisciplinary group to fill the knowledge gap between social and media researchers and technology. A short talk and conversation with Javier Sanchez-Monedero, Cardiff University

With a background in computer science, when asked for auditing of a system, your first idea could be to interrogate the system though performance metrics or to question privacy issues. However there are many dimensions of analysis of sociotechnical systems beyond metrics which are often more interesting and revealing for social scientists and provide a richer understanding of the role of a tool in society.


10th March
Ethnography in Interdisciplinary Contexts. How effective is it to integrate ethnography in interdisciplinary research contexts such as thematic, grand challenges projects? What are the challenges? In what capacity are these projects truly interdisciplinary? What other methods of enquiry effectively complement ethnographic methods, and what approaches or project structures are best avoided?


17th March


Michaelmas Term 2020

14th October
The replication crisis – discussing research practice that results in this phenomenon despite most scholars having honest intentions with the aim to produce rigorous work. We can also discuss replication analysis practices.


21st October
Software tools you’ve always needed but never knew about - discussing how software tools can help your research project and you don’t need to be a computer scientist to use them!


28th October
Data science & social science theory – how best can these extremely powerful quantitative tools be deployed to develop and test social science theory?


4th November
Working across disciplines - how and when to combine research methods across research fields and how to communicate research methods across fields.


11th November
Causation - how is causation tested across disciplines? How are research methods used to infer causation and what are common (mis)understandings of the relationship between method and causal inference?


18th November
Collaborative research/networking online – discussing ways of collaborating and networking in an online environment.


25th November
Machine Learning – discussing what machine learning can do for research outside the computer sciences and how best to get started.


2nd December
Do I need to go Bayesian? Many academics who use statistics were trained in the Frequentist approach but there has been much criticism of reliance on p-values and significance to publish findings. Is a Bayesian approach the solution, and how difficult is it to learn?


9th December
Trial studies and Covid - What are the implications of Covid for the execution of, say, educational trials? Are they even possible in such unpredictable environments? Can adherence to study design be ensured? Will institutions still be willing to collaborate?