Hands up if you’re willing to support student PR research

Hands up if you’re willing to support student PR research

Students need all the help they can get, but a recent suggestion on social media didn’t elicit the response I expected.

Formal teaching is over in UK universities and post graduate dissertation season is about to kick off. Masters students are expected to investigate an area of theory or practice and produce an original piece of work.

It typically combines a mix of research and analysis, whereby data collected from practice, or interviews are used to challenge or support a thesis.

Engaging with practitioners is an important part of the process. Indeed savvy students often investigate an area relevant to their intended area of future of employment and use the research process as a means of building relationships. It’s a smart approach.

Students and their teachers frequently seek recommendations and introductions for support with projects via social media.

Cooperation between theory and practice

The relationship between theory and practice is slowly improving. Its reflects the growing maturity of our business.

Academics increasingly participate in industry conferences, events and media; as judges, speakers, and commentators.

The relationship is reciprocated by practitioners who teach at universities and host student work placements. My personal commitment is a Visiting Professor role at Newcastle University that I've held for the past four years.

Communities such as #FuturePRoof and PR Place have helped improve engagement between the two communities; and blogs and Twitter improve accessibility.

Finally there’s associations such as AMEC, CIPR and PRCA where academics and practitioners intermingle in formal and informal networks, and generate intellectual property.

The AMEC measurement framework and the recent CIPR #AIinPR skills report resulted from theory and practice working together to tackle industry issues.

But it isn’t always the case. I naively stumbled into a tricky area over the weekend.

Paying forward and back

I suggested on LinkedIn and Twitter that it seemed sensible to use social media as a means of connecting practitioners with students, and create an aggregation service.

The comment was motivated by three email requests that I received last week, each asking for help with a project. It’s around three hours of work in total.

Supporting research, and especially anyone starting out in their career is an important aspect of a profession. We owe it to the future of our business to payback our experience and expertise to the younger generation.

I’ll gladly help if I can but my blog and books generate countless requests and the time investment can be significant. I’ve also got my own commitments to students at Newcastle.

My experience is not atypical. A practitioner who asked not to be named said she was contacted by 15 students after speaking at a university.

A dumb idea: Aggregating student research requests

An aggregation service seems like a common sense approach. Indeed several practitioners stepped up and volunteered support.

Here’s the surprising issue: teachers were less keen. Students are expected to build relationships as part of their research and study, and short cutting the process isn’t sport.

The challenge is that everyone has access to the same lists, books and media, thanks to Google. It’s easier than ever before to connect with people, and I don’t want that to stop. It’s easy enough to politely decline requests.

A teacher cited another issue that leads to Twitter baiting: “the pressure to gather primary research also leads to a spate of spurious online questionnaires where a student chases a threshold of responses.”

But it would be good if more practitioners self-identified as willing to help students with their work. Perhaps if you’re willing and able you’d leave a comment at the end of this blog and your broad area of expertise.

Finally students, please recognise that practitioners all have busy day jobs. Any input they provide will likely be in their own time, so be considered, smart, and respectful in your approaches.

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