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How I found my calling in research

How I found my calling in research

As my codes and latest findings baffled me, to a point that I just had to step away from the computer, and use the excuse of transferring my already coded data from F4 to NVivo (to not confront it yet), I’m taking the time out to write this blog post on finding my research interest, as was blogged already by a friend and colleague of mine who I have yet to bump into (despite living in the same town!), CJ. Plus, writing about finding my research interest may also be a way for me to rediscover my passion and reflect on why I chose to study PGCE teacher development.

As CJ said, we learn very quickly on how to answer the question “So, what is your PhD on?” in a really succinct way. My way of doing it is always, “So, I’m doing research on teacher education,” and then, if the person’s interested to find out more, they’ll go, “Cool, so what is it that you are looking at in teacher education?” and then, I’ll say, “So, I’m looking at Cambridge Science PGCE teacher trainees’ development of reflectivity” and then elaborate some more.

Then, after all that explanation, they’ll ask, “Great, why did you decide to do a study on the Cambridge Science PGCE teacher trainees?”

It all started when I was myself a science teacher trainee, where I took the Master of Teaching route in Brunei for Teacher Education.

Prior to that, I did an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences (which surprises a lot of people when I mentioned this fact), and even though there was an undergraduate Science Education degree, I did not take it, as I was set to work in a microbiology lab somewhere at that time after spending a year doing an undergraduate thesis on food microbiology. It all changed after I spent one year teaching primary school children, and I was already tutoring a few of my cousins at that time; as I enjoyed it, I decided to take up a teaching qualification.

I then did the Master of Teaching route in Brunei, because at the time, the PGCE was no longer offered, and it was then that I was introduced to the idea of reflectivity and reflective practice. I loved the idea so much that I read more about it, leading me towards John Dewey and Fred Korthagen (and many others). I introduced the idea of reflection to my classroom in Brunei (when I was a teacher trainee), and used my students’ reflections of my lessons to improve my practice and influence my development of reflectivity as a teacher; it resulted in a Master’s thesis, stored at my alma mater’s library.

However, by the time I received my teacher qualification, I wanted to know more about teacher trainees’ development of reflectivity, and when I started my PhD in Cambridge, my supervisor, Dr. Mark Winterbottom, suggested that I pilot my research in Cambridge before potentially going back to Brunei to carry out my research.

I didn’t go back to Brunei, but instead focused my study in Cambridge, as I was fascinated by the three different types of PGCE teachers that Cambridge has amongst its cohort of PGCE teachers. Coming from Brunei, where there were only two types of teacher candidates (at least when I was a student there), that is, new graduates and unqualified teachers (I, myself, was an unqualified teacher). It was fascinating to see that Cambridge has three different types of PGCE teachers: new graduates, career changers, and post-docs.

It was wanting to understand how these three different types of PGCE teachers develop their reflectivity and wanting to see whether doing a PhD or having another job (or a series of jobs) prior to carrying out PGCE has any impact on their development in reflectivity, that led me to my research project. It took me quite some time to get here, but here I am, already finished with data collection and currently carrying out data analysis.

Being in Cambridge has led to me to meet a lot of people with varied research interests, which helped me learn more about my interest in other areas, as seen in this blog, where I also have thoughts on other matters. One new research interest that has cropped up from being a student at Lucy Cavendish College (the only Women’s College in Europe that admits women above the age of 21) is an interest in gender and feminist issues; something that I did not think of prior to coming to Cambridge (being in biology, I am used to being in an all-women environment, and Brunei gives equal opportunities for both men and women when it comes to education). One of the things I do is to continue to defend that there is still a need for an all-women’s college (Lucy Cav is one of three all-women Colleges in Cambridge; Newnham and Murray Edwards are the other two) to men (and sometimes women) who have argued with me about why they think Lucy does not need to continue to exist in this day and age.

That is just one research interest that has developed in Cambridge. Who knows what else might prop up as I continue my academic career?

For now, I am content in learning more about my own PhD; thus, I really should get back to transferring my codes now.


Hamizah Haji-Haidi (@AmyHeidi) is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. This story was published on August 4, 2017, on Hamizah’s blog, Reflective journeys of a doctoral student (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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