What skills does one need to be an applied researcher?

By: Sandi Loschnig

Published Oct 28, 2014

Image provided by shutterstock.com image id. 209103715.

Image provided by shutterstock.com image id. 209103715.

Bow Valley College’s Community of Practice for Applied Research hosted an inaugural forum on September 30, 2014 to explore the characteristics, skills and motivations of the applied researcher. This is what we learned.

“Pay attention to what unsettles you, what doesn’t feel right” Dr. Phyllis Steeves[1] told the forum. “The work I do impacts the Indigenous communities I work with. Research needs to be meaningful. It engages us in thinking about real world problems. When we do research we develop and articulate knowledge.”

Karen Mercer[2] agrees. “I never thought of myself as an applied researcher but I’m inquisitive. I ask questions. I’m curious.  My research started from a discussion, and I realized if things struck a chord with me, they may strike a chord with others. Applied research is about being interested in learning and sharing that learning.”

Curious, flexible, persuasive, people-minded, open, collaborative, engaged in learning, persistent, passionate. These words came up again and again in describing the qualities that make an applied researcher. And they certainly describe the researchers on the panel.

All six distinguished participants* on the panel spoke enthusiastically and passionately about the different research projects they had initiated. They also shared their thoughts on the importance of applied research and what it contributes to learners, Bow Valley College and communities in general.

Collaboration, cross-disciplinary teamwork, and partnerships are key in developing applied research projects.

For Corinne Finnie, applied research is about community development – helping the community identify opportunities and partnerships. “In the process of interviewing and engaging people, they become part of the research. You identify people and organizations that have a common interest.” Corinne was instrumental in Bow Valley College’s involvement in an extensive study led by Mount Royal University investigating the impacts of the 2013 floods on families in High River. Her applied research projects also include Rural Workforce Development: Assessing Employer Needs and Improving Access to Training. This included a survey of 184 business leaders and employers to identify workforce training needs in High River and Okotoks.[3]

“I want to get involved when I see or suspect that things could be done better. At TOWES (Test of Workplace and Essential Skills), I have an interesting opportunity to engage with government, educational institutions and businesses to talk about literacy. We do develop products, but we also participate in bigger discussions about literacy” Krista Medhurst explained. Krista is the business lead responsible for managing the TOWES unit at BVC. She has conducted and managed several innovative applied research projects, most recently the development of TOWES Prime, an intuitive online complement to the pen and paper TOWES.[4]

Hana Taleb Imai is the current chair of BVC’s Research Ethics Board and Coordinator, Innovation and Research for the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. “I am always looking for a better way to do things. There used to be only one pathway for learners who had entry-level English. I was part of a team of researchers who collaborated to develop another assessment tool/pathway for learners based on entry level language benchmarks.”[5] At present, she is involved with a team looking at distributed learning and other modalities as opposed to the traditional ELL classroom.

It’s important to be aware of our own assumptions and prejudices.

Dr. Phyllis Steeves emphasized that what we value impacts our teaching practice and underpins our research. Currently, she is working on an Adult Literacy Research Institute project as lead researcher with a team developing an oral assessment framework for Aboriginal Peoples funded by Innovation and Advanced Education.[6] “We realized how embedded the prioritization of written language is in most forms of assessments. The Assessment Framework project is being developed to focus on strengths of Aboriginal peoples and to find ways for adult learners to be empowered when assessing their skills.”

Be committed to translating your research into practice.

Dr. Rena Shimoni was BVC’s Dean of Applied Research and Innovation and was responsible for securing research funding and seeing several province-wide studies from idea to completion.[7] She spoke about the importance of planning for change that results from your research. “It’s not enough to do a study and share the results. If you believe your research influences change, plan for it. How am I going to make sure the research is impactful? Be committed to translating it into practice.”

Some final words of advice to the future applied researcher

“When you have that initial idea, talk about it with colleagues. The richness of their feedback can really guide you.”(Krista Medhurst)

“Know your funders, know the environment, and partner if you can.” (Corinne Finnie)

“At the college, there are a number of people who have done applied research, and the Applied Research and Evaluation department. Utilize this internal expertise.” (Hana Taleb Imai)

“There is a lot of organization that goes into a research project.  Be aware of your own strengths, as well as the areas where you could benefit from input and assistance from others.” (Dr. Rena Shimoni)

“Research doesn’t stand alone. Your own philosophical perspectives, theories, all aspects of your life will inform your research.” (Dr. Phyllis Steeves)

“What you find might also surprise you. You have to be open-minded and flexible, be open enough to see something different than what you expected.” (Karen Mercer)

*The panelists

  • Rena Shimoni, Research Advisor to the Vice President, Learning, and to the Director of Learning Resource Services and Applied Research (BVC)
  • Karen Mercer, Program Coordinator overseeing High School Programs and Curriculum Development (BVC)
  • Corinne Finnie, Director, Regional Stewardship, (BVC)
  • Krista Medhurst, Business Lead, TOWES Unit, (BVC)
  • Hana Taleb Imai, current chair of BVC’s Research Ethics Board and Program Coordinator, Innovation and Research, Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement (BVC)
  • Phyllis Steeves, Assistant Professor at Werklund School of Education and Applied Researcher (University of Calgary)

An invitation to get involved

“In the spirit of bringing together people with a thirst for knowledge,”[8] the BVC Community of Practice for Applied Research was formed in late 2013. The group is open to all members of the College community interested in connecting, sharing, engaging and talking about research on topics that matter to them. This is the first of what is hoped to be many special events featuring researchers and projects from BVC and beyond.

Contact arcop@bowvalleycollege.ca for more information and to get involved.


This event was organized and planned by:

Patricia Pryce, Instructor Lead, Essential Skills, Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning

Scott Henwood, Researcher, Applied Research and Evaluation

Tim Loblaw, Coordinator Teaching & Learning Enhancement, Learning Resource Services

Aggie Legaspi, Evaluation and Applied Research Lead, Applied Research and Evaluation

Candace Witkowskyj, Instructor Lead, Disability and Literacy, Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning

Afifah Oishi, Research and Evaluation Assistant, Applied Research & Evaluation

Samra Admasu, Communications Officer, Adult Literacy Research Institute


[1] Dr. Phyllis Steeves is currently an assistant professor at the Werklund School of Education and has done extensive research into the concept of Aboriginal literacy and its impact on Indigenous peoples. Her Phd dissertation Literacy: Genocide’s Silken Instrument explores the “actions/events/discourses that facilitated creation of a concept which reframes Aboriginal peoples’ ways of knowing and being under a Eurocentric construct: the concept of Aboriginal literacy.” (Steeves, 2010).

[2] Karen Mercer is a Program Coordinator in the Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning. Her research project A Selected Literature Review for Adult Learner Success Aboriginal Upgrading Program done in collaboration with April Bellegarde and Alice Charland can be found at https://centreforfoundationallearning.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/2012aug07_litreview_aboriginal_final.pdf

[3] See https://www.bowvalleycollege.ca/rural_workforce_development_assessing_employer_needs_and_improving_access_to_training.pdf

[4] See http://www.towes.com/media/31455/towes%20prime%20announcement.pdf

[5] See https://centre.bowvalleycollege.ca/research-development/projects-development/redevelopment-target

[6] See http://www.centreforexcellenceinfoundationallearning.ca/ under projects.

[7] See https://www.bowvalleycollege.ca/campus-services/applied-research-and-evaluation/publications.html

[8] Community of Practice Planning Committee announcement

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