Innovating in research and questioning assumptions

Ama Agyeman, Professional Doctorate in Education candidate at London Met reports on the University’s student-staff research conference, ‘Between Tradition and Innovation.’

Date: 21 July 2020

‘Between Tradition and Innovation,’ London Met’s first University-wide student-staff research conference was held on 14 and 15 of July. The virtual event, show-casing a wide range of new research here at London Met, was the culmination of much hard work by the Graduate School and Research Postgraduate Office teams. Born out of continued collaboration between students and staff through the liaison forum, the conference offered up the opportunity for shared working across the Schools. This being a much-welcomed opportunity by all in the research community, the buzz of excitement in the weeks leading up to the conference was palpable. 

An additional motivating incentive for speakers was the prospect of receiving one of five awards to be presented at the end of day two. For me, as a non-presenting student member on the judging panel, I was enthusiastic about the unique chance to experience it through an entirely different lens. However, as I sat down eagerly to look over the itinerary for the upcoming days, a slow sense of self-doubt began to emerge. New terminology floated before my eyes; ‘Human Cytomegalovirus glyoprotein B’?, ‘Cyber threat-analysis’?, ‘Reinterpreting the Persian carpet’? Such phrases felt unfamiliar from those I normally use with ease. How would I, a researcher firmly rooted in the field of education, be able to understand or even then comment on such an array of topics? With a strong bout of what is often referred to in online academic forums as ‘imposter syndrome’ underway, I flipped my laptop lid shut. 

However, within minutes of the conference getting underway I realised that I needn’t have been concerned at all. This is testament to all partaking presenters who stepped up to their virtual podiums, who illustrated their ideas with clear visuals, who explained concepts alongside their posters considerately and who responded graciously to critical enquiry from members of the audience. By the second morning, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Professor Don MacRalid’s keynote speech began to encapsulate what I’m sure many of us were thinking on; that being truly innovative in research requires us to reflect upon our own theoretical assumptions; and that to embrace it we must allow ourselves to be challenged through interdisciplinary dialogue.  Here we also turned our thoughts to current affairs. How do we situate ourselves ethically as researchers in an ever-changing world?  To be innovative, are we ready to embrace change whilst still learning from traditions gone by? 

As the second day came to a close, I could hardly believe it was already time to meet again as a panel and talk over the rich work we had seen. After difficult deliberation, we finalised the award-winners. ‘Best Poster’ went to Francesca Filatondi, ‘Best Lightening talk’ – Marjan Jeddi, and ‘Best Student Paper’ to Wally Shannon Mbassi Elong. Two further awards were decided through audience live-voting which was thoroughly enjoyed. ‘Most engaging student paper’ went to Mayra Gallardo Andrade and ‘Best Link to the Conference Topic’ - Anthony Phipps. Alongside these several commendations were given, but importantly, every contribution was celebrated. Cheers came through by way of emoji, and though the sound of claps were replaced by pings, a strengthened sense of community was felt by all. I reflected that despite being amid a pandemic, I had seen an eagerness to welcome new people, ideas and to think ahead across boundaries. Whilst closing my final tab, one last message popped up. An undergraduate student who was already looking forward to getting more involved next year. ‘This has been an inspiring two days!’ they exclaimed, and I for one couldn’t agree more.  

My personal thanks go to Professor Klaus Fischer, Dr Eirini Meimaridou, Dr Harriet MacKay and Eliz Arter; fellow panellists who provided a supportive environment to share thoughts and experiences collaboratively.

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About the author: Ama is a qualified teacher and researcher undertaking a professional doctorate in education at LMU. Ama has taught in various settings including mainstream - early years and primary, alternative provision and at university level. Her research interests centre around social justice issues in education, specifically school exclusions and the lived-experiences of parents/children and young people in these contexts.