22 SES 02 D, Academic Work and Professional Development
Overview: This paper has its focus on the career trajectories of a distinctive group of higher education staff: newer researchers who research higher education itself (‘Newer Researchers in Higher Education’, abbreviated to ‘NRHEs’ hereon). Drawing on the findings of a survey and series of interviews, the paper considers the impacts and effects of a specific professional award on the career trajectories of a set of NRHEs, in their own interpretations. The empirical aspect of the project is now complete, and, thus far, the findings suggest that the award provides an important opportunity to engage in research as well as a level of recognition. However, there are also some reservations expressed about aspects of professional awards for newer academics. It will be suggested that these findings have broad relevance, given that NRHEs work in universities throughout Europe and internationally, albeit with diverse responsibilities and research interests.
Research focus and questions: This paper reports on a small scale, empirical research project. The purpose of the project was to explore the experiences of NRHEs, after they won an annual prize, administered by a higher education organisation. The prize includes a moderate financial award to be used for a project to be undertaken by the winning applicants with the support of a more experienced mentor, as well as a number of other incentives. Our own project comprised two connected research questions: (a) What experiences of the prize did former winners have, in terms of what they learned and gained from it? (b) What impacts has the prize had on the subsequent careers of those who won it? The project involves soliciting the views of its former winners.
Additional context and conceptual framework: Higher education research can be characterised as a ‘field’ or ‘second-level discipline’, forming part of the broader discipline of education, although there remain debates as to whether education itself is a discipline or a field of practice (Seckinger, 1964; Richardson, 2006). The study of higher education has also been characterised as a ‘fragmented field’, as it is interdisciplinary and attracts researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds (Teichler, 2005). Consequently, it features a strong migratory element, researchers often ‘arriving’ from other disciplines (Manathunga, 2009). The fragmented nature of higher education research bears a number of consequences for those entering joining it. For example, it has implications for newer arrivals trying to identify routes to establishing a career due to a perceived lack of disciplinary cohesiveness. Access to traditional disciplinary hierarchies and funding mechanisms may represent a challenge to NRHEs attempting to locate themselves in their institutions and in the sector. Yet because it attracts researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, higher education research might also be regarded as an open field, providing space for new arrivals and cross-disciplinary thinking. For this study, we were also informed by the work of Åkerlind (2008), who adopted a phenomenographic research approach (Marton & Booth, 1997) to explore the phenomenon of ‘growing and developing’ as a researcher, in researchers’ ‘post PhD’ career phases.
Åkerlind, G. (2008) Growing and Developing as a University Researcher. Higher Education, 55, 2, 241-254. Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods. Oxford, Oxford University Press, third edition. Cousin, G. (2009) Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches. London, SEDA & Routledge. Manathunga, C. (2009) The challenge of being 'new' in higher education research: deconstructive possibilities? Paper presented at the Keynote, SRHE Postgraduate and Newer Researchers' Conference, December 2009. Marton, F. & Booth, S. (1997) Learning and Awareness. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Richardson, V. (2006) Stewards of a Field, Stewards of an Enterprise. In C. M. Golde & G. E. Walker (Eds.) Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline - Carnegie Essays on the Doctorate (pp. 251-267) San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. Seckinger, R. K. (1964) Conant on Education as a Discipline. History of Education Quarterly, 4(3), 193-197. SRHE. (2012) Society for Research in Higher Education (online). Available at: http:// www.srhe.ac.uk/research/annual_research_awards.asp (Accessed 23.01.13). Teichler, U. (2005) Research on Higher Education in Europe. European Journal of Education, 40(4), 447-469.
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