Written by Mairi Hamilton, a second-year AHRC-funded doctoral researcher in the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow. Mairi is exploring women’s experiences of abuse in the home in nineteenth-century Scotland. Find her on twitter at @MairiAntoinette
The Dreaded Training Needs Analysis
For a long time ‘training needs analysis’ (TNA) was a phrase that would cause a big dark cloud of apprehension and doubt to gather in my mind. Just the prospect of having to do one made me groan internally. While some previous attempts escalated into a minor existential crisis. What may be formulated as an instructive, reflective exercise to encourage professional development brought me far too close to the looking glass, which I appraised with an overcritical lens.
Prior to my PhD, former jobs and voluntary roles required a TNA, although I was never really sure how I was supposed to do it properly. Like any good overachiever I was reluctant to dwell on my weak spots when I was willing to work so hard for the right results. And like any good perfectionist I wanted my TNA to be faultless. But with this type of attitude doing a TNA becomes a contradiction: how do you perfectly find fault with your eager self?
Training needs analysis sounded so official and procedural to me that I would wonder what might be the potential consequences of it. I feared that I would be found a fraud who was not qualified or bright enough to be in the room (hello imposter syndrome!). Could I end up sacked or overlooked, or even shamed?
Training Needs Analysis Isn’t So Bad After All
But no more! Doing a PhD has completely flipped my attitude towards TNA. As a doctoral researcher I feel fortunate to have access to so many interesting and dynamic training opportunities. The process of weighing up what training would be most helpful, relevant, timely or enjoyable means TNA is something I am doing all the time.
Obviously PhDs encourage learning, in relation to our specialist knowledge and skills, but making real, recognisable progress with my development by seeking out support and opportunities feels like a top priority. I want to take responsibility for my own learning, and that involves being reflexive about my training needs and using my initiative, ultimately in an effort to become a more effective, stronger, bolder researcher.
A PhD requires an immense amount of commitment, time and energy, but it is a finite period of time unlike any other in life. Remembering that it is an opportunity to challenge yourself and raise your game can be really invigorating.
Training Needs Analysis In Action
I am based in the Centre for Gender History and I am researching women’s experiences of abuse in the home in nineteenth-century Scotland. Telling people this can provoke a grimace and frankly it can be tough to research; not only can the content be explicit and unpleasant, but some days it can affect my worldview and I begin to see sexual violence and women’s vulnerability in everything.
While chatting with my peers it became evident that my reaction was not unique. Lots of doctoral researchers are focusing on distressing, difficult subjects, including illness, death, genocide, war, terror – I could go on. It can take its toll on our mental and emotional wellbeing, however doctoral training programmes rarely address this issue. Recognising how common and how potentially damaging this problem is created an impetus among us to do something about it.
A group of us decided to apply to SGSAH for Cohort Development Funding (CDF) to organise a one-day workshop about the personal impact of researching traumatic experiences. The initial responses from SGSAH, the CDF panel, the Arts Graduate School, especially Dr Nick Fells who wrote a statement of support, and a number of other academics along the way, attested to the widespread interest in providing doctoral researchers with bespoke, novel training opportunities to help them fulfil their potential.
Friend, Not Foe
My PhD has made me realise how valuable a proactive, positive attitude to TNA can be. Treating it as an explorative tool, rather than a box-ticking chore, recognises that learning is an ongoing, evolving process unique to each of us and our circumstances.
If you are interested in knowing more about the workshop, visit @ResearchNTrauma on Twitter. Thanks to SGSAH for awarding us Cohort Development Funding. Thanks especially to Dr Nick Fells, Brooke Gordon and Lesley Watson in the Graduate School for all their help and support before and after the workshop.
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