Final Report of my MSCA Individual Fellowship

My Marie Curie fellowship ended the last day of 2019 and I had 60 days to complete my final report. For Marie Curie Research Fellows, it can be difficult to figure out what will be required for reporting, based on discussion threads I read online.

Fellows don’t have much indication of what the report will entail until the European Commission’s “Participant Portal” invites them to submit the final report. Even then, it’s not clear how long the descriptions will need to be or where the report template is located. Only after you enter the text for the public statements, will the system inform you how long the text must be. Surprises I encountered in the official reporting process: The text you post for the public is limited to just 7480 characters! There’s specific button you’ve got to locate that contains the blank PDF template for the full report.

This blog post contains the public synopsis of my 2018-2019 project as well as a link to a PDF of the full report, which uses the required template and thus may be of help to other fellows:

I’ve posted this blog for (a) people interested in the research I’ve done and also (b) other MSCA fellows who have questions about the reporting process. This particular post shares my short, public synopsis (below). It’s likely I’ll post more detailed info in coming blogs, along with photos of the MSCA grant period that I’ve never posted before.

Getting the photos loaded onto WordPress has provided me a pleasant trip down memory lane. I plan to share more of these in coming posts.

Public Synopsis

1Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project (For the final period, include the conclusions of the action)

This section should include information on:

  • What is the problem/issue being addressed?
  • Why is it important for society?
  • What are the overall objectives?

The Action “Designing Engineers: Harnessing the Power of Design Projects to Spur Cognitive and Epistemological Development of STEM Students” looks at how engineering and architecture students learn, and how design projects and teamwork affect students’ thinking and overall development. The research questions how students learn to design and how their thinking changes over time with regard to what knowledge is, where it comes from, and how it gets validated; their views on this constitute their epistemologies. Such topics are important because society needs more engineers and more STEM graduates. Not only is there widespread lack of engagement, but problems also have been identified in graduate engineers’ ability to think holistically—today’s graduates do not seem prepared to identify and address global challenges in the comprehensive way society needs. Although engineering is often perceived as a dry, technical subject there is great room for creativity.

Architecture programs around the world are filled with highly engaged students. In engineering, there has been a move to teach in more active, hands-on, project-based ways that incorporate design, as done in architecture. Engineering can learn from architecture’s historic success in engaging and teaching students to design, but engineering has placed more focus than architecture has on understanding how students learn. The fields of engineering and architecture education have much to learn from each other. 

Objectives of this Marie Skłodowska Curie Action (MSCA) have been to (a) develop and promote better ways to teach and support STEM students; (b) help transform engineering into a more diverse and creative field; and (c) investigate questions surrounding the theme, To what extents do design projects influence the cognitive and epistemological development of undergraduates in engineering and architecture? A parallel goal of the MSCA Individual Fellowship is to foster the development of the individual researcher (that’s me!).

2Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far (For the final period please include an overview of the results and their exploitation and dissemination)

Work was conducted via 6 work packages (WPs). WP1 comprised 3 qualitative research studies that yielded 4 conference publications and 1 journal publication to date, with an additional 3 conference publications and 2 journal manuscripts underway. WP2 sought to build skill with multiple research methodologies. In it, the Fellow delivered 5 conference presentations, 3 published journal articles, and 1 encyclopedia entry, with 2 conference manuscripts underway. WP3 involved developing a special-focus journal issue. The Fellow exceeded goals by spearheading development of 2 different special focus journal issues (published 2018 & 2019). The Fellow is leading the development of a third special focus issue (for 2020). In WP4, the Fellow delivered 20 public engagement activities to popularize STEM and communicate findings. In WP5, for researcher training and transfer-of-knowledge, the Fellow attended 70 intensive training workshops and multi-day conferences. She provided leadership in publishing and research at university, national, and international levels. To transfer of knowledge, she conducted 18 workshops for researchers and educators; she provided supervision and mentoring for early career researchers. She was appointed Associate Editor of IEEE Transactions on Education, Editorial Board member of the European Journal of Engineering Education, and serves as Chair of the global Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN). During the grant, she earned a teaching qualification in the UK (SFHEA) and secured €56,000 (as co-PI) for education projects in Spain, a £11,200 donation to UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineers via EWBUK, and €237,727 in contract work from UCL Consulting. The project was managed under WP6.

Results of this MSCA are reported in: (1) forthcoming papers on how architecture and civil engineering students conceptualize design creation and knowledge generation; (2) forthcoming papers on ethics, sustainability/SDGs and early-career engineers from a study on UK civil engineers’ practices and perceptions of global responsibility; (3) papers about women’s experiences studying engineering including a longitudinal study (that uses data collected over four years in Ireland regarding Middle Eastern women’s experiences studying engineering abroad) and analysis using the framework known as A Hero’s Journey (of a single mother’s challenges and successes studying and working in engineering); (4) a systematic review of grit in engineering education; a multi-method study of engineering teachers’ experiences implementing problem based learning (PBL). The data sets collected during this MSCA will inform and enhance dozens of publications in the coming years, in addition to the ones produced and published during the fellowship itself.

3Progress beyond the state of the art, expected results until the end of the project and potential impacts (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

This MSCA has pushed the frontiers of engineering education research (EER) forward in a numerous ways. The 2 special focus issues the Fellow spearheaded have shed new light onto socio-cultural diversity and engineering students’ identity formation and epistemic development. The educational blogs, STEM activity books for kids, and fun, creative events conducted by the Fellow are helping popularize engineering—the first STEM book was nominated for an award of excellence in the UK. The engineering education journals, and the workshops and community up-skilling events led by the Fellow are helping cultivate broader human capacity to produce quality research in the field of EER (e.g., Chairing the Research in Engineering Education Network to help raise the quality, credibility, and usefulness of EER globally and delivering Master Classes to help engineering teachers and researchers upskill).

This MSCA allowed the Fellow to develop agility with many different research methodologies and promote best practices to the larger EER community (e.g., co-authoring a study on “grit” in engineering education and identifying how to report it for maximum impact). The Fellow’s project on UK civil engineers exposed shortfalls in ethics and sustainability education and identified how engineers learn about these crucial topics, in that research participants said they did not learn enough about them in university. The Fellow’s PhD student is generating important new knowledge about processes and organizational systems that support creativity in engineering production; working together they are generating new models that describe shortfalls in engineering for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and illustrate what can be done to address them. Through the Fellow’s research on architecture and civil engineering students, valuable new understandings are emerging related to how students conceptualize both design creation and knowledge generation.

Impacts anticipated from the MSCA are increased and improved: focus by engineering educators on developmental patterns shared among engineering students; student retention as a result of improved support; diversity as techniques to support minority students are increasingly employed; overall teaching in engineering education as a result increasingly credible and useful research; focus on ethics and sustainability in engineering education; and production of tools and models to help engineering educators foster creativity and engineering firms contribute to realizing the UN’s SDGs. A final overarching impact is enhanced public perception of engineering as a fun and creative field.

The commission also requested:

4 – Address (URL) of the project’s public website

5- Images attached to the Summary for publication

Diverse researchers at your service!

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The campus of DIT Grangegoreman (soon to be TU Dublin) which is now under construction

I found myself surrounded today, by dozens of brilliant scholars. I’d been invited to speak at a workshop on Gender Equality held by the Irish Alumni Chapter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA). The half-day workshop was held in St. Laurence Church on the Grangegorman Campus of DIT.

Marie Curie fellows, past and present, traveled in from all over Ireland to attend the event. The Irish MSCA Alumni chapter is just two years old and it covers the whole of the island, welcoming researchers from north and south, east and west.

A lovely group of early-career researchers arrived in last night from Cork for the workshop, for instance. They came to Ireland from many different countries across Europe and beyond to work with the excellent researchers here.

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Dr. Chiara Loder, with Ireland’s MSCA office, helps researchers write winning proposals

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Dr. Geraldine Canny, the MSCA National Contact Point and Head of Ireland’s MSCA Office.

Dr. Amir Tabaković, a Strategic Research Proposal Coordinator housed in DIT’s Research Enterprise and Innovation Services office organized the event. Amir was formerly a Marie Curie Fellow to TU Delft in the Netherlands. Several other alumni assisted in organizing, including Dr. Declan Devine, the  Chair of Ireland’s MCA Alumni chapter who was a Marie Curie fellow–following his wife’s own MSCA fellowship. They have spent time doing research in Switzerland, the US, and now back home in Ireland.

The day’s line-up of speakers was both exceptionally accomplished and full of insight. We started with introductions by our hosts, Amir and Declan, and a talk by Dr. Geraldine Canny, who is Head of the Irish Marie Skłodowska-Curie Office and National Contact Point – H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Programme. She is responsible for the delivery of the office suite of application supports and also provides input into MSCA policy as a Programme Committee member. The program continued as follows:

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Jean Cahill, one of my mentors and heroes

I’ve included photos of many presentations. During the coffee break and post-workshop lunch, we got to socialize and network. I asked Jean Cahill–a Head of Research at DIT and one of the people who has helped me with writing various grants in the past–how many Marie Curie Fellows we’ve had at DIT. She rattled off five, and I was two of them! I think, for institutional records, I’m counted as an incoming MSAC Fellow (2014-2016) and an outgoing MSCA Fellow (2018-2020). The reason I’d asked Jean about this was that I had just met DIT’s newest incoming MSCA fellow, and she’s female. Interestingly, all the five fellows to DIT who Jean identified are female. The program is open to men and women alike, so the success rate for women applying to DIT is very high! I’ve always found DIT to be a very supportive environment. In fact, Jean and others like former National Contact Point Dr. Jennifer Brennan, helped me draft both of MSCA applications–going well above and beyond their job requirements and providing loads of pertinent advice that was crucial to my success in securing funds. For both of my MSCA applications, Professor Nancy Stenson and Dr. Marek Rebow helped with editing as well.

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Chatting with Professor Brian Bowe in DIT’s Rathdowne House

For today, Amir had asked me to talk about my experiences as a Marie Curie fellow and identify some gender aspects of my research work. I encouraged the audience to push beyond gender and seek inclusivity for all types of diversity. I asked them to promote wider considerations of diversity in European funding calls and evaluations, as well as in their own research. I asked them to consider publishing gender-related aspects of their findings in journals that reach more than one type of specialty audience and I provided examples. Then I described one of the research projects I’ve done as an MSCA fellow and the data analysis I have underway now that I will report via the Society for Research in Higher Education.

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Dr. Shanonn Chance with DIT’s Dr. Barry McCauley, an expert in BIM and Quantity Surveying

At the conclusion of the workshop, I met up with my former Fulbright and MSCA supervisor, Professor Brian Bowe. Then I walked from DIT Grangegoreman to DIT Bolton Street by way of our new path–which connects the two sites and takes just seven minutes to walk. There at Bolton Street, I returned a library book (Marton and Booth, 1997) and had a chat with Dr. Barry McCauley, who was serving as my temporary replacement but has since been appointed to a permanent full-time position of his own at DIT. I couldn’t be more pleased, as Barry is an excellent teacher and researcher and is excelling even while adjusting to his new prosthetics. Barry was injured on a construction site when he was 21 and his legs were crushed, but he has not let this stop him. He went on to get his Ph.D. and he’s a force to be reckoned with! We are lucky to have him at DIT; I really enjoyed learning Navis Works and CostX from him in prior years and he has done some very important research on uptake and implementation of BIM (Building Informational Modelling) globally.

If you are a researcher reading this who is interested in applying for a fellowship to come do research in engineering education at either DIT (soon to be TU Dublin) or at my other institution which is UCL, or in BIM implementation here at DIT, please contact me and I’ll help you write a grant proposal (IrelandByChance at gmail dot com).