Engaging with peers as an early career researcher: Reflections on the ADR UK Conference 2023
6 December 2023
Claire Grant won the award for best student oral presentation at the ADR UK Conference 2023. Here, she reflects on her experiences at the conference, and on the landscape for early career researchers using administrative data.
Could you tell us about the research you presented at the ADR UK Conference 2023?
My PhD research aims to understand the lifecourse health needs of women whose children enter care. At the ADR UK conference, I shared findings from a collaborative project with the University of Toronto. For this study, I used linked administrative datasets to research maternal disability and children’s social service involvement in Ontario, Canada.
Our results found that newborns who had a mother with a disability were more at risk of being discharged into social services at birth. In particular, a newborn was over six times more likely to be taken into care at birth if their mother had an intellectual or developmental disability, than if their mother had no disability. We also saw that a mother being young (under 25), experiencing poverty, receiving poor antenatal care, or having a history of mental illness or substance use, increased the risk of their babies entering care.
I hope these findings can be used to inform the development of support services for families at risk of children’s social service involvement, to generate ideas around health equity, and to support people with disabilities to parent safely.
A conference can act as a ‘hub’ of relevant contacts and networks, which is a great opportunity to share findings, get useful feedback, and inspire future collaborations. The feedback I got on my own work will be incorporated into the write-up of my thesis and relevant publications, and the quality of my research has improved as a result.
What are your reflections on the conference?
At the conference, I reflected on the responsibilities of researchers using administrative data. After Professor Marion Oswald’s keynote presentation, I spoke with fellow PhD students about how our own work might be used to inform future decisions in policy and practice, and I had a few questions at the front of my mind:
- What are the ethical considerations for using administrative data to identify groups at risk of poor outcomes?
- How can we translate findings into meaningful, positive change?
- In what ways might research cause indirect harms, or further marginalise populations?
My research aims to understand how services can better support women who are at risk of having their children removed from their care by social services. We know that information captured in administrative data for operational use by public services might indicate a family to be at greater risk of child abuse or neglect, for example, if it shows histories of domestic abuse or previous involvement with children’s social care. However, being ‘at risk’ does not mean that the outcome is a certainty.
By using de-identified administrative data for public good research, we can better understand how different groups experience public services and direct support where it is needed. We must also acknowledge the limitations of administrative data research for understanding the experiences of families – including their strengths, resilience, and hope.
Claire Grant (left) accepting the ADR UK Conference 2023 award for best student oral presentation
Why is it important for early career researchers to be able to engage with conferences?
A PhD can be quite isolating. There are often few opportunities to speak with other early career researchers across topic areas, disciplines, or institutions. A conference can act as a ‘hub’ of relevant contacts and networks, which is a great opportunity to share findings, get useful feedback, and inspire future collaborations. The feedback I got on my own work will be incorporated into the write-up of my thesis and relevant publications, and the quality of my research has improved as a result.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to most conferences and seminars being held online, which created unique opportunities to attend events at relatively low cost. Yet there was a real sense that some components of ‘in person’ conferences were being missed in the online world. It was wonderful to physically be in Birmingham this year and present my research to a room of people. I welcomed the informal chats in between sessions, and the engagement of audience members during talks.
What are your reflections on the landscape for early career researchers using administrative data?
As discussed throughout the conference, there are known challenges with timelines for accessing administrative data, gaining relevant permissions, and establishing linkages. PhD students often have short windows of time to complete their research, and ‘time constraints’ can be a key barrier to conducting research with administrative data. It would be great to see more possibilities for overcoming PhD feasibility challenges, such as:
- accelerated permissions for students using existing datasets
- opportunities for PhD secondment with data owners
- extra time in PhD funding to allow for data setbacks.
Researchers using administrative data have a responsibility to engage the public with their work and communicate their findings in a meaningful way. I would like to see more funding for innovative public engagement initiatives led by PhD students and early career researchers using administrative data, for example, workshop days or outreach events. Establishing good practice at the early stages of our careers will be important for ongoing skill development, relationship building, and ensuring social licence for our research.
Support for early career researchers
ADR UK is currently supporting 22 PhD studentships hosted by supervisors at Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral Training Partnerships across the UK. Visit our PhD noticeboard for information about events, training resources and placement opportunities.
You can also explore the full ADR UK learning hub.