Fall is here, hear the yell
Back to school, ring the bell
Numbers, letters, learn to spell
Nouns and books and show and tell
Playtime, we will throw the ball
Back to class, through the hall
– White Stripes
The Academic Summer School is about to start.
We let the clock tell its tale
8.46 am, Day 1
A real surprise – the lecture room is almost full. We had wondered how many people would go from the email list into the seats. Most, it appears. Young Mongolians are motivated.
The organisers are gathering on the platform. There are Ariell and Munkh-Erdene, the personification of the event who co-organised the event. Our Japanese colleagues are filtering in; Prof Ozaki, the project leader and his postdoc Moe Terao. Early career lecturers Yuko Matsumiya and Taka Tomita are setting down their coffees. Experienced Prof Buho Hoshino is helping his Japanese students get settled in. Where is Troy – ah, by the tea table talking with participants.
We are at the National University of Mongolia for the Mongolia Summer School, aimed to encourage graduates, post-graduates, early career researchers and professionals in their academic development. More specifically, the goal is to improve social science research design and skills to write in English for international journals. Paper, pens and laptops ready, the first Academic Summer School starts. There is Zoloo, our Mongolian translator, on her way to study for an MSc at Cambridge in the UK, who helps us to translate and ensure the participants understand the words and concepts.
Phew, we have gotten through Introduction to Research Philosophy and Theory and Academic Literature – the heavy subjects. The participants, with their intense looks and smiles, are following, doing the interactive exercises. We answer questions, catch our breath and think about the afternoon.
Professor Ozaki gives a clear and heart-felt explanation of the Japanese academic process. His personal journey enchants the students. The talk stimulates many questions.
10 hours already!
Now we are in the lounge of the Novotel Hotel for a reception with all the participants. So different – from serious future academics the participants are now students and lecturers again. The Japanese Deputy Ambassador to Mongolia welcomes all who are gathered with kind words. Now people come to life, sharing histories and dreams. The Chinggis beer helps.
8.59 am, Day 2
Good to see – the participants are back, talking, filling the room. The vibe is comfortable, Day 1’s formality has eased away. The morning covers How to Choose a Research Topic and Writing Research Questions and Research Methods for Data Collection. This features the Japanese academics on stage together with the students asking many questions. The discussion dives deeper in mutual knowledge exchange.
The groups splits into two sessions. The first was for Common Methods in the Social Sciences with experts Byambaatar Ichinkhorloo and Eric Thrift joining Ariell. This focused on interviews, participant observation, and ethnography. The second was Remote Sensing with Prof Hoshino featuring sites and landscapes in Mongolia. This breakout worked well as participants could follow their interest.
Sessions rejoined to finish off the tea and cookies, summarise the day and say goodbye – it’s Friday night.
9.00 am, Day 3
There are three people in the room, including me. It’s early on Saturday morning.
Now participants filters in from across the city. They take up their familiar seats and readily prepare for the day. There has been a lot to absorb; we hope the programme documents and in-class exercises are useful. The morning is for Ethics, Data Analysis and Dissemination in the Social Sciences. Eric joins again for a lively session on research ethics. This is clearly a new topic for many and opens new ways of thinking about research.
We work on Developing an Argument to make research relevant and impactful. After this the organisers go to lunch at a vegetarian (!) restaurant. We talk about how impressive, attentive and engaged the students are. Mongolians are really motivated and involved – this is a key take-home for us. What about the next day – a Sunday. Should we start later, or shorten the programme? Hmm. Then masterly Munkh-Erdene states ‘they like the programme – lets start at 9 am as we promised’.
On Saturday afternoon we jumped into the details of writing with Citations and Referencing. Here the main message was: ‘don’t plagiarise!’, with some context and and examples. Qualitative Data Analysis addressed how to analyse data from interviews, participant observation and other text-based data sources. As much was new, the day opened eyes and minds to the complexities of writing in English for an international audience.
9.02 am, Day 4
Even some of the organisers are a little late. It has been a team effort that went ‘effortlessly’. This is because of Munkhuu and Ariell’s thorough planning. The idea was to inspire and expose Mongolian participants to academic writing. As students and researchers join us early on a Sunday morning I am most impressed with their dedication and motivation. As I look around the room I wonder if some will publish papers. A few have the ready talent; others can development their skills and horizons. Some may use material in their jobs and studies. We are holding the academic doors open for all of them. Let’s hope some join us in writing and publishing.
Expectations for Academic Writing tells us how it is to write a research article. Or better, it gives pointers on how to start the process and resources to help along the way. The key point was – ‘don’t copy and paste!’. Structuring Writing, How to Select a Journal and Building your Academic CV and an International Research Profile rounded out the day.
After the group photo we go around the room for each participant to say their most important point. They were listening. As they talk the themes differ, the emphasis varies. But look in their eyes. The enthusiasm is the same. This is beautiful.