This post is written by Sai Kalvapalle, MSc student 2016/17 of Organisational and Social Psychology. Sai is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Business-Society Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands.
It gives me great pleasure to write about DisCo 2017, the London School of Economics and Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science’s very first MSc Dissertation Conference. This initiative was organised by Dorottya Svab, Sarah Crom, and myself (Sai Kalvapalle), three PBS alumni from the class of 2016-2017. We could not have done this without the help of Grace Rahhal and Maria Zimbron, two of our MSc classmates, and Dr. Frederic Basso.
The vision behind this initiative is startlingly simple. Our one-year MSc’s consisted of lectures, essays, exams, and finally, the Dissertation. Around mid-June, the number of peers we saw regularly started dwindling. People went away for data collection, or writing from the comfort of their own home (countries), because anywhere with internet is an acceptable choice to submit a PDF from. So what happens to the final product that we carefully (re-re-re-) read and slave away at for months? It is read by two markers, assigned a grade and feedback, and then disappears into the *hushed voice* archive.
There are some fundamental problems with this process. Firstly, by not being able to physically discuss and get feedback from our peers, we lose out on a tremendous knowledge exchange opportunity. Secondly, the projects MSc students undertake are not like Bachelor’s theses – it is a requirement that we collect and analyse empirical data. So there are novel insights taken from a variety of cultural contexts that are waiting to be shared. Finally, there is something to be said about research impact as a whole, particularly for students at the cusp of doctoral study or career paths that require critical thinking and idea generation and dissemination. Research became a conduit rather than a dialogue. In fact, the Latin root for the word dissertation is dissertare, which means just that. Discussion.
We decided to address this problem head on, and created DisCo. The idea behind DisCo is that previous year MSc students present their Dissertations to each other, academics, guests, and most crucially, current MSc students. Not only does this facilitate knowledge exchange, it also scaffolds the research process for new MSc students embarking on their projects. Beyond research concerns, we also wanted to facilitate networking through ideas – after all, a large part of the MSc consists of making connections, and we hope that through DisCo, other collective ventures can be born.
“This is a fantastic example of what you are learning here. You’re learning how to think and how to do, it’s not just about the techniques.” – Professor Saadi Lahlou
PBS DisCo 2017 was approximately four hours in length, with 18 speakers across 4 MSc programmes: Organisational and Social Psychology, Social and Cultural Psychology, Social and Public Communication, and Psychology of Economic Life. The Conference consisted of 3 sessions, each with an internally similar focus. Each session was followed by a Q&A session, and the conference concluded with past-year MSc students sharing tips about the dissertation process with new MSc students.
“It has made me more understanding of people, having discussions of morality, religion, politics…those kinds of topics that are often contentious.” – Andy Stewart, speaker and MSc alumnus
Dr. Frederic Basso served as Conference Chair, and opened with a discussion on the Department’s commitment to real-world application of knowledge, and how this conference facilitates this dialogue between the lab and the world. This was followed by a brief introduction by myself and Dorottya, and we communicated our motivation for creating DisCo, and the future we envision for it.
Session 1 consisted of research on leadership, gender in the workplace, organisational innovation, and self-management. Methodology consisted largely of surveys and interviews, and the data was analysed through means such as thematic analysis and narrative analysis. The Q&A session sparked an interesting question: how do we abstract context-specific research to a higher-level, broader understanding of social processes? This is something worth reflecting on for all researchers at different points in the research process, so that we are careful in our claims and mindful of the dynamics we study.
Session 2 was slightly more diverse. Research was conducted in healthcare settings, with online review data, on questions of moral decision-making, on mindsets, traffic rule breaking, and corruption. Diverse, indeed. The data analysed included vignettes, employee reviews from Glassdoor.co.uk, survey with experimental primes, focus groups, questionnaires, and natural observation. In the Q&A session that followed, Professor Saadi Lahlou raised an interesting point on the reflexivity integral to the dissertation process:
“Reflexivity is a heuristic,” he stated. “If you step back from the problem, this is how you get the big picture. Reflexivity enables you to see the problem from a different perspective.”
This comment further emphasized the value of such a conference – not only are ideas being shared, but we are also now able to collectively reflect on the nature of research and how to do good science.
The speakers of Session 3 covered topics in a variety of cultural contexts: the black public sphere, polygamy and how women are represented in Nigeria, the Cyprus conflict, British-born Indians and British-born Pakistanis, representations of the EU in post-referendum UK, perspectives of Leavers and Remainers, and finally, the subculture of PBS exploring student learning experiences. A majority of these topics used social representations theory, a theory developed by Serge Moscovici in 1961 that is concerned with how individuals order their social worlds, and how they then communicate this ordering. Methods used include interviews and focus groups, and many conducted a dialogical analysis as they were concerned with how people communicate in a certain context. One MSc alumnus also reflected on his experience to pursue Plan B when his original dissertation was halted due to unforeseen circumstances. This event actually caused him to be a more reflective researcher and gain a meta-perspective on the student experience.
The last Q&A session bled into the MSc tips session, and returned to previous points of discussion such as reflexivity and objectivity in research. Speakers suggested transparency to maintain an unbiased view – one speaker mentions how she told her participants up front that she voted Remain even if they voted Leave. An interesting point was brought up on the nature of cultural research: those doing research in cultural contexts that they are a part of are able to gain insights and enter into worlds that are perhaps forbidden to most. Former students advised current students on a few key points: how the research question can evolve over time with courses you take and conversations you have, not to worry too much, to conceptualise the thesis as a process, to be forthright in data collection, and to write everything down – there are no bad ideas in the dissertation process. LSE Life was also considered a very useful resource, so take advantage of this!
I apologize for the length of this recap, but if you were not present at the conference, I hope this is sufficient to make you regret missing what was clearly an intellectually stimulating session of dialogue and knowledge exchange. But you will not have to regret for too long – work is already underway for DisCo 2018, wherein students from the 2017-2018 DPBS MSc cohort will present their projects to MSc students of the 2018-2019 MSc cohort. Current MSc students: we will be recruiting organisers to be a part of the team for next year’s Conference, so you will hear from us shortly on how to apply and what we are looking for!
If you were present at the Conference, please fill out the feedback this form, so that we can improve for next year and track impact.
Many thanks to all those involved in making DisCo 2017 a success. We hope to repeat this for years to come, and firmly integrate dialogue in the Dissertation process.
You can read a selection of abstracts taken from MSc dissertations from PBS here.