Loading content

Lessons for early career researchers on policy relevant research

Dr Gillian Kane reflects on the Modern Slavery PEC’s information session on policy-relevant research for Early Career Researchers.

Published: 8th July 2022

In June 2022, the Human Trafficking Research Network (HTRN) hosted an online information session with the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC). The session was aimed at early career researchers (ECRs) who are keen to secure research funding and conduct policy-relevant research that achieves impact in practice. The session was particularly suited to the members of the HTRN, a group of mainly PhD and early career researchers hosted by the Human Rights Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.

During the session, we heard from the Modern Slavery PEC’s team on what research the Centre funds, how can early career researchers apply, obstacles encountered by early career researchers when applying for research funding, and how the Modern Slavery PEC approaches policy impact and engagement with people who have lived experience of modern slavery.

This blog highlights three key takeaways from the session.

1. Invest time in building a network

The session began with an overview of the PEC’s work, with a focus on what type of research is likely to attract funding. It was particularly insightful to hear about the research themes that guide the Modern Slavery PEC’s work, which cover a broad range of possible research questions across a range of disciplines, meaning that researchers engaged in work relating to human trafficking and modern slavery from a range of perspectives may be eligible to apply for funding.

The presenters also covered possible challenges which ECRs may face when it comes to securing research funding, such as drafting a funding application for the first time, or a limited network of potential research partners. The speakers gave some helpful advice about how to overcome some of these challenges. For example, building strong and meaningful relationships with possible partners, and signing up to the newsletter and the Modern Slavery PEC Google Group to hear about new funding calls, are tangible steps that ECRs can take. In addition, the Modern Slavery PEC team reminded participants that – in contrast to academic writing – funding proposals should be written in plain, clear language.

2. Consider how to meaningfully involve people with lived experience

A second key aspect of the session was the focus on involving those with lived experience of human trafficking and modern slavery. This is a topic of great interest to the members of the HTRN – our 2022 conference was entitled ‘Beyond Silos: Amplifying Marginal Voices and Underexplored Methods in Human Trafficking Research’. As such, it was really encouraging to hear about the Modern Slavery PEC’s strong commitment to incorporating the voices of those with lived experience in research.

One of the key takeaways in this regard was the advice to ensure that this inclusion is meaningful and not tokenistic. Of course, there are many practical and ethical issues to consider and this can sometimes be daunting for researchers. However, the discussion served as a reminder of just how important this inclusion is, and the speakers provided food for thought about how to go about this in a way that does not cause harm. Again, the theme of research emerging from meaningful and established partnership was evident in the discussion.

3. Make the impact of research central from the start

As researchers, impact is something we all aspire to, but it can often be difficult to both define and achieve in practice. It was helpful to hear how the Modern Slavery PEC approaches impact, which includes not only ensuring that research is ‘relevant, timely, trustworthy and accessible,' but also that the research and evidence produced is used and understood by key decision-makers in practice.

By more clearly reflecting on the question of impact, ECRs can tailor their research proposals with the end goal of ‘impact’ in mind. Once again, the Modern Slavery PEC team offered reflections from their experience and clear advice, such as building in impact from the start, understanding the audience, and tailoring the outputs to that audience.

Moving forward: a continuing partnership

The session closed with a Q&A session, where attendees offered reflections and posed questions. One of the themes emerging from the Q&A session was that ECRs would value additional advice on how to write high-quality funding proposals. We hope we can address these and other questions as part of an ongoing relationship between the HTRN and the Modern Slavery PEC. As the challenges of human trafficking persist, it is essential that we forge strong partnerships between research, policy and practice. We are grateful for the input of the Modern Slavery PEC and are looking forward to a continued partnership as we work towards the goal of high-quality, impactful human trafficking research.

Dr Gillian Kane is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway and Co-chair of the Human Trafficking Research Network.