Let's talk about R&I

"Writing my thesis has been a big journey of learning"

Sara Bosch Brinques
Mitchell Peters, Predoctoral researcher at the UOC

Mitch is about to finish his journey as a PhD student at the UOC. Specialised in the Education and ICT (e-learning) research line, the flexibility of the doctoral program has allowed him to achieve both professional and personal goals, such as having his first child, Mateo.

Where are you at with your research?

I am a full time doctoral student in my final year. Looking at how students can connect and integrate online education learning across different contexts and practices in their lives is very interesting. It’s something that hasn’t exactly been addressed in the literature, especially since these opportunities have become more common and mainstream. In essence, my research focuses on online education, particularly in examining student experiences of learning in higher education through a multi-site and multi-case study.

What multi-sites are we talking about?

I’ve chosen three research settings: the University of Edinburgh in the UK, the University of Illinois Urbana Champagne in the USA, and now, the UOC.

There are many around the world. Why these ones?

Because they are examples of fully online programs in educational and digital technology. They are exemplary cases for various reasons: many of the practices they use are open and they intentionally try to connect professional practices with academic learning. With these, I get a broad view of what is happening today with the student experiences in these programs.

Tell us about your global profile as an educator.

I am a Canadian who has been studying, teaching and living abroad for many years, coming up to 10 years in Europe. After spending some time in France and Portugal, I ended up staying in Spain. I have always been fascinated by the role of digital technology and media in learning, always interested in new communication and its impact on both formal and informal learning.

As an expert, can you tell us what is the future of online higher education?

More and more students will be studying online and throughout their lives. Lifelong learning is also a focus of my study. The traditional studying model from when you are 18 to 22 years old and then being done is a bankrupt model, it’s broken. It’s going to be more looped based learning model, so students coming back to formal learning after working, combining both with family life. This is the kind of society we are already living in. It needs to be constantly updating, it needs to be connecting learning with real life settings across many contexts, as an interest-driven learning, as a lifewide learning together with a lifelong learning.

How did you end up here?

For many reasons, both professional and personal. Firstly, I had the opportunity to come to Barcelona and study here with full-time funding. And secondly, my partner lives here and I wanted to connect the bridge and eventually start a family, which I have just done here having our first child, Mateo.

What are the advantages of undertaking research at the UOC?

Obviously working at an online University has a lot of advantages and flexibility such as working at home but also having an office and colleagues to come and interact with. There is a very active research community here amongst doctoral students but also amongst the research group that I participate with (EduLab: http://edulab.uoc.edu/en/). Being able to work in seminars, conferences, workshops, etc. in a mix of working individually and collaboratively is ideal. There is a lot of collective knowledge at the UOC as an institution that was founded as an innovative, open, and digital University, so coming to work at an institution that does not have the ‘baggage’ of a traditional campus-based university is an advantage.

Can you share the highs and lows of your doctoral process?

This process has been a big journey of learning. Let’s start with the highs: If you are a self directed and curious learner, you are going to grow as a researcher, as a collaborator, as a colleague. It’s important to be able to take advantage of all the resources and opportunities here such as courses to improve certain skills.

And the lows?

Some of the low points are that, despite being a collaborative process, there’s also a lot of individual and solitary work that goes into a thesis. For example, I had never ending feelings. There are some serious moments of challenges where you really need to push yourself, to be persistent and to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of writing, analysing, interpreting results… But then there’s breakthroughs, where you come to interesting, useful and valuable results, something you can actually contribute to the scientific community. These moments make the journey worth it.

Most listened song along the journey.

Woah, that is a difficult one to answer because I listen to a lot of music… For example, ‘Life Through The Veins’ by John Hopkins is a song that can really push me through. While working I listen to a lot of instrumental, ambient, classical, post-classical, relaxing music that can help me to concentrate, read, write, and analise. I also learn by listening to a lot of podcasts on science, technology, interviews, narrative-driven storytelling.

What advice would you give to someone who is about to start your journey?

Find a community to work with. Doctoral work should be a collaborative process. Build a routine: stay focused and organised. Plan ahead and realise your plan won’t always unfold as you want, but that’s ok as long as you have a solid structure that will allow you to meet your goals.

And what are the necessary skills to continue along the process?

Doing doctoral work full time is a unique and valuable opportunity to focus on research 100%. There are not many opportunities, especially in the field of education, to really just focus on doing research. Sometimes you are mixing teaching and research, so this is an opportunity to really train yourself and gain competencies you need today to work in digital research. Take advantage of this and learn skills such as how to evaluate a research problem with questions, and objectives to resolve the problem and come up with solutions to the educational problems that we face today in the network society.

What’s on the other end?

You want to be able to come to the other end being able to contribute and to find a professional context to work in that is worth this arduous, long process. When it’s complete, it’s going to be a big relief to know I’ve pushed through the difficult moments and come out with something that I’m proud of.

Tell us about your contribution.

One important contribution I’d like to make with my work is to understand how universities, particularly online universities, can design curriculum, strategies and learning experiences for students that connect study through different contexts of their lives. Beyond an academic classroom, how universities are making learning more meaningful, relevant and updated for students in the world that we live in today with their professional practices.

What is your plan for the future?

I look forward to the future, to the new chapters in life. I want to continue working in an academic context, as a teacher and a researcher, mixing both sides as I have a passion for digital research, teaching and education as they are becoming more and more relevant. And I want to continue having work-life flexibility, to keep this lifelong process of learning, working and personal life.