srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education


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Redrawing research methods and rewriting data

by Kate Carruthers Thomas

The call for papers for the SRHE 2019 Conference slid into my inbox not so long ago, marking the point in the year when the mind must focus in the short-term, in order to benefit from all things Celtic Manor in the longer term! The conference theme: Creativity, Criticality and Conformity in Higher Education invites debate on transcending the traditional and building an innovative research culture. The theme is timely in view of my own recent experiments involving graphics and poetry in social sciences research.

One year ago, I sat with a mass of rich qualitative data I’d collected for Gender(s) At Work, a research project investigating gendered experiences of work and career trajectory in higher education (HE). I’d interviewed 50 members of staff, identifying as female, male and gender non-binary, working in academic and professional services roles within one UK university. I set about analysing the data using Massey’s theory of geographies of power operating within space. I wanted to explore ways in which gender operates as a ‘geography of power’ within HE and the extent to which participants’ diverse and complex lived experiences trouble the prevailing career narrative of linear, upward trajectory.

Clear space soon emerged between the rhetoric of gender equality and lived experiences in the workplace and throughout working lives. Despite decades of equal opportunities legislation and institutional equality policies, the glass ceiling remains a feature of our sector. Elements of less familiar career archetypes: the glass cliff (Ryan and Haslam, 2005; Bruckmuller et al, 2014); the glass escalator (Williams, 2013; Budig, 2002) and the glass closet (Merriam-Webster, 2018) also surfaced in the transcripts.  These metaphors, archetypal and architectural – were something of a gift to a researcher concerned with the relationship between space and power. I found myself experimenting – you might call it doodling – with visual representations of the glass ceiling,  escalator, cliff and closet.

Using the visual was not completely new territory for me; as a doctoral student I had employed visual mapping as a research tool (Carruthers Thomas, 2018a) and tentatively used abstract diagrams as aids to explaining my theoretical framework and findings (Thomas, 2016), but I hadn’t picked up a pencil with intent since school art lessons. Nevertheless, four cartoon characters emerged from my doodles; embodiments of gendered dis/advantage in the HE workplace.

Throughout the Gender(s) At Work project, I had been disseminating emerging findings through conference papers and PowerPoint presentations. I had written a chapter about my research methodology (Carruthers Thomas, 2019a). As academics we anticipate and reproduce such formats; they keep the academic wheels turning and form the building blocks of academic credibility. With data collection complete however, I was unsure that the temporal and structural constraints of these conventions were going to do justice to the volume of complex personal narratives entrusted to me by research participants. I was also becoming increasingly drawn towards McLure’s argument for

immersion in and entanglement with the minutiae of the data … an experimentation or crafting … a very different kind of engagement with data from the distanced contemplation of the table that is the arrested result of the process.

(McLure, 2013: 174-175).

In March 2018, the Sociological Review explicitly invited unconventional contributions to its conference: Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges. Still enjoying my experimentation with cartooning, I decided to explore the possibilities of communicating my research findings through a ‘graphic essay’ entitled My Brilliant Career? An Investigation. This would be in the format of a large-scale, hand-drawn comic strip conforming to the structural conventions of an essay or article. My proposal was accepted and the work began! The learning curve was precipitous!

 In June 2018, I exhibited My Brilliant Career? An Investigation at Undisciplining (Carruthers Thomas, 2018b) in the impressive surroundings of BALTIC Gateshead. The four A2-sized panels remained on display throughout the three days of the conference. It was strikingly different, communicating my research this way rather than hothousing it in a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation. Many delegates returned to the exhibit several times to look, bring colleagues, take photographs, ask questions. I engaged in discussions not only about the medium, but about the research process and findings too. And I myself engaged anew with the work, as an exhibit, rather than a cherished work in progress. I later translated the four panels into an A1-sized academic poster, displayed at the SRHE 2018 Annual Conference.

Meanwhile, another call for unconventional conference contributions in the form of poetic and performative work, had come from the Art of Management and Organisation (AoMO). This triggered a second experiment in creative criticality resulting in Glass, a long poem also based on the Gender(s) At Work data. Unlike graphic art, in poetry I do have a track record (Carruthers Thomas, 2018c), but had not considered blurring the boundary between poetry and academia until this call. Yet, as an academic my research practice involves collecting, analysing, distilling and presenting data. My research is a form of enquiry seeking enhanced intelligence and evidence to advocate organisational, structural and cultural change. As a poet, I follow a similar process to create a poem. More, or less, consciously I collect data: ideas, questions, emotions, sense phenomena, then manipulate language and sound to distil the data into poetic form. Glass brings these practices together.

To write it, I returned yet again to the interview transcripts, creating a poem comprising four sections – ceiling, escalator, closet and cliff – using participants’ words and a narrative framework featuring the researcher’s voice, using original poetry. Glass was deliberately written as a piece to be performed, another first, as I had only previously written poems for the page.

Even now, even now in my meetings

I’m still faced with wall to wall suits.

And I still hear my colleagues repeating

the proposal I tried to get through weeks ago

Great idea!

                                                                                (extract from Cliff, Glass 2018)

Glass and My Brilliant Career were created independently of one another, in different media but they draw on the same research data. This is not all they share. Both involved an extended process of analysis and representation; repeated revisiting of the data and work in painstaking detail. Both explicitly draw on and draw in, the affective, bringing the potential for surprise, humour, anger and pain into the room without apology. Finally, both also required me to allow myself to be vulnerable to audience resistance, discomfort, critiques on multiple levels and questions of academic validity.

Largely positive responses to the graphic essay and the research poem at those conferences set me thinking about ways to signpost the potential of creative approaches in social science research more widely and led to another experiment in academic practice.  I designed a multi-modal dissemination programme to take the findings of Gender(s) At Work out to UK universities and research institutes.  The programme featured six ‘options’ from which host institutions could select, mix and match: the exhibit My Brilliant Career? An Investigation; the research poem Glass; a conventional Powerpoint presentation of the research findings: The Workplace Glassed and Gendered and another giving an illustrated account of my emerging graphic social science practice: The Accidental Cartoonist. Building on both the research findings and visual methods, I also designed two participative workshops. Mapping Career challenged participants to develop meaningful visual alternatives to the reductive metaphors of career ladder and pipeline and On The Page explored the way simple visual and graphic methods might be used in research and teaching. I publicised the programme via email across the UK HE sector.

The response was extraordinary. Since November 2018 I’ve visited universities and research institutes from Edinburgh to London; Cambridge to Bangor. Audiences have included academics in all disciplines, professional services staff, senior management, conference delegates, Athena SWAN teams, women’s networks and mentoring groups, postgraduate and undergraduate students. I called the initiative the ‘gword tour’ after my blog the g word (that’s g for gender).   Six months, 30 ‘gigs’ – all that’s missing is the T-shirt!

One day I might be discussing Gender(s) At Work aims, research methods and findings to Athena SWAN leads and women’s networks; on another I’ll be delivering the Mapping Career workshop at a staff conference. I’ve presented The Accidental Cartoonist to academic developers and EdD students and encouraged academics to experiment with visual methods in their research and teaching practices in the On The Page workshop. Glass has been performed at some unlikely venues, including the Wellcome Sanger Genome Campus, the Stansted Airport Novotel – and to audiences somewhat larger than those at the average poetry reading!

How will you crack the glass enclosing some,

exposing some, blinding others

to their privilege?

Reflect on it.

                                                                                (extract from Epilogue, Glass 2018)

Throughout the gword tour I have diligently handed out structured feedback forms (in return for a free postcard), providing me with a continuous feedback loop and resulting in adaptation and tweaking of individual sessions throughout. Now the tour has concluded, a large pile of completed forms await me and I’m looking forward to getting the bigger picture. Meanwhile I’m already musing on two questions which have arisen throughout the past year. Firstly, whether and how addressing familiar topics through unfamiliar media can disrupt audience expectations and dislodge habitual responses to tricky subjects such as gender equality; secondly, whether what I have described in this blog constitutes being ‘differently academic’. 

By ‘differently academic’ I mean taking the opportunity to sit with our data for longer, deliberately to approach it from different angles, to explore its creative dimensions. I mean bringing data to diverse audiences, in diverse ways over an extended period, a process which has only further energised and deepened my engagement in the original research questions. Audience after audience has grilled me on my research rationale, process, findings, limitations and implications. Each time, their questions, comments and challenges have pushed my analyses further and opened new lines of enquiry.

I fully intend to publish my reflections on these questions in conventional academic formats: papers, articles and chapters.It may be that creative, critical work in our field can only gain academic legitimacy through this route.Meanwhile, other opportunities have arisen. Glass was published in the Sociological Fiction Zine in May 2019 (Carruthers Thomas, 2019b). I am currently working on a set of visuals for a new academic research centre and will be poet-in-residence at an academic conference in November 2019. The SRHE call for papers defines creativity as ‘transcending traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships’. I hope to continue to be creative and critical in my academic work, not for transcending’s sake, but ‘to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations’.

SRHE member Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas is Senior Research Fellow and Athena SWAN Project Manager at Birmingham City University  kate.thomas@bcu.ac.uk  @drkcarrutherst Blog: – the g word https://thegword2017.wordpress.com/

References

Bruckmüller, S, Ryan, M, Rink, F and Haslam, SA (2014) ‘Beyond the Glass Ceiling: The Glass Cliff and its Lessons for Organizational Policy’, Social Issues and Policy Review, 8(1): 202-232

Budig, M (2002) ‘Male Advantage and the Gender Composition of Jobs: Who Rides the Glass Escalator?’, Social Problems 49(2): 258-277

Carruthers Thomas, K (2018a) Rethinking Student Belonging in Higher Education: From Bourdieu to Borderlands, Abingdon: Routledge

Carruthers Thomas, K (2018b) My Brilliant Career? An Investigation. Graphic Essay exhibited at Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges Sociological Review, Gateshead, BALTIC.  June 2018

Carruthers Thomas, K (2018c) Navigation, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Cinnamon Press. 

Carruthers Thomas, K (2019a) ‘Gender as a Geography of Power’ in G Crimmins (ed) Resisting Sexism in the Academy: Higher Education, Gender and Intersectionality, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Carruthers Thomas, K (2019b) Glass. Sociological Fiction Zine, Edition #5 www.sofizine.com.

McLure, M (2013) ‘Classification or Wonder? Coding as an Analytic Practice in Qualitative Research’, In Coleman, R and Ringrose, J (eds) Deleuze and Research Methodologies, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.  Chapter 9. pp.164-183.

Merriam-Webster (2019). [online] Available from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/glass%20closet Accessed 28 May 2019.

Ryan, M and Haslam, A. (2005) The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions, British Journal of Management, 16(2): 81-90

Thomas, K (2016). Dimensions of belonging: rethinking retention for mature, part-time undergraduates in English higher education, PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London

Williams, M (2013) ‘The Glass Escalator, Revisited. Gender Inequality in Neoliberal Times’, Gender & Society 27 (5): 609–629


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Academics in the Digital University

By Ibrar Bhatt

I was honoured to organise, introduce and chair this SRHE digital university network event on 22 February 2019 at Queen’s University Belfast. It was the second Digital University Network event to take place here at Queen’s and I hope that it becomes a new tradition for both the SRHE and QUB.

The event hosted three papers, from varying perspectives, to discuss the issue of digitisation and how it has affected the professional work of academics. Since most research on digitisation tends to focus on students, there is now a justifiably growing body of work which examine the impact of digitisation on academics, especially in light of new practices of knowledge production, knowledge distribution, and, more broadly, academic identity formation in current times. In other words, what it means to be an academic and to do academic work.

The event began with the team of the ESRC funded ‘Academics Writing’ project (David Barton, Mary Hamilton (both Lancaster), and myself (QUB)), outlining how digital media and digitisation policies are shaping the knowledge-producing work and professional lives of academics in new and unexpected ways. One focus of this talk was email and how to manage it and experience it as part of professional life in academia. Much of the discussion which emerged was around how universities are managed and how, if at all, academic labour is divided. You can read more about this project’s findings in our new book Academics Writing. I worked on this project and found that it was a great induction into the academic working life!

This was followed by Katy Jordan’s (Open University) paper, which drew on three of her recent projects. The projects  focused on academics’ use of social media platforms for networking, how these engender different types of impact, different types of professional connections and relationships, and how these relate across different discipline groups. Notably, one of Katy’s many findings is that academic online spaces are not ‘democratising’ spaces, but rather spaces where hierarchies are reflected and in some cases algorithmically perpetuated.

Mark Carrigan’s (Cambridge) paper explored how the proliferation of platforms is reshaping social life, particularly in relation to the social sciences and their role within and beyond the university. Among the various perspectives critically explored by Mark were ‘project time’ in academic work, ‘amplification-itis’ where pursuit of online popularity is an end in itself, and overall ’acceleration’ in the academy as a result. You can find out more about Mark’s work here.

The papers together presented arguments about how many of these new practices, brought about through digitisation but also given impetus by deeper changes such as the marketisation and massification of HE, are becoming key indicators against which academic professional success is being measured, with online profiles being factored into an academic’s reputation and potential to influence their own field. This event, therefore, critically explored some of the challenges faced by new and established researchers in understanding what the ‘digital university’ portends for the future of the academic workforce and for scholarly work in general. The scope is quite vast so we hope to cover this theme again in future events to include more international perspectives.

All three sets of slides for the papers are available here.Ibrar Bhatt is a Lecturer in Education at Queen’s University Belfast, a member of the SRHE’s Governing Council, and a convener of its Digital University Network. His recent publications include the following monographs published by Routledge/T&F: Assignments as Controversies: Digital Literacy and Writing in Classroom Practice and (co-authored) Academics Writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation. He tweets at @ibrar_bhatt


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Why write?

By Joy Jarvis

Why do we write? The University of Hertfordshire’s in-house journal, LINK, ‘aims to support academics and professionals in contributing to the understanding and development of educational practice’. This means it supports and promotes academic writing, and my recent article for LINK on pedagogic frailty suggests a place to start when thinking about why we write. We might of course need to think about REF, but there are other sorts of writing that might be equally valuable. Is ‘REFability’ valuable beyond what it achieves in terms of university scores? Why did we write before the REF? Those of us who have been in universities for many years do remember that time!

The pedagogic frailty article was written to give information about something important for university leaders and managers to consider. It aimed to Continue reading


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Staff Academic Writing

by Amanda Roberts

I joined my current university mid-career. Having begun my teaching career as an English teacher, I ended this phase of my working life 20 years later as a headteacher of a closing school.  I used this formative experience to set up an educational consultancy company, supporting the development of schools in challenging circumstances. Consultancy provided me with the opportunity to put into practice what I had learned as an educational professional. I was secure in my professional identity and felt confident and purposeful. In 2009, on joining a School of Education at the University of Hertfordshire, I was excited by the opportunity to develop my expertise in a new sector.  However, the first year in my new role proved very challenging. I found it difficult to understand how the organisation worked or my role within it. The culture of the university, its language and structures were all alien to me. I was now an ‘academic’ and had no idea what that meant. I felt professionally disempowered and unsure of my way forward.

I was interested to discover that others felt this way too and that for many this alienation stemmed from their feelings about academic writing. Many colleagues appeared to place themselves in one of two camps – Continue reading


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Where have all the questions gone?

By James Hartley

In an earlier blog (SRHE News, April 2017) I reported that the titles of articles in the field of higher education fell into three categories – ones with colons (60%), ones with statements (30%) and ones with questions (10%).  In this blog I note that the dearth of titles written in the form of questions is much more common than I thought.

Table 1 below shows the numbers (and percentages) of titles written in the form of questions in an assortment of publications and disciplines.  (Further details are provided in Hartley 2018a, b, and Hartley and Morgan, 2018.)

It can be seen, with this sample of 950 titles, that only 77 (8%) of them were written in the form of questions.  Even this figure, however, is much higher than the 2.3% reported by Cook and Plourde (2016), who studied 7,845 such titles in sixty academic journals.

Table 1.  The numbers (and percentages) of recent article or book titles with question marks.

  

Source    No of titles No of titles with ?s %
New Scientist 48 8 17
London Review of Books 57 0 0
Times Literary Supplement 48 8 17
Psychology PhD Theses 100 6 6
Psychology Journals 380 23 6
History Journals 187 31 17
Postscript (a book catalogue) 130 1 0.76
Overall 950 77 8

Titles with questions can frequently be answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or (more typically in Education and Psychology) ‘it all depends’. In the field of journalism Betteridge (2009) postulated a witty law that stated that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘No’” (Betteridge, 2009).  This, however, is not the case here.  Indeed, Cook & Plourde (2016) reported in their study of such titles in academic articles that most of them were more often answered with a “Yes” rather than a “No”.

Posing a question in the title is often seen as a way of drawing the readers’ attention to the issue in hand.  I find it surprising that it is not done more often. Any comments?

SRHE member James Hartley is emeritus professor, School of Psychology, Keele University.

 

References

Betteridge, I (2009)  ‘TechCrunch: Irresponsible journalism’ Technovia.com

http://www.technovia.co.uk/2009/02/techcrunch-irresponsible-journalism.hml.

Cook, JM and Plourde, D (2016) ‘Do scholars follow Betteridge’s Law? The use of questions in journal article titles’ Scientometrics 108: 1119-1128

Hartley, J (2017) ‘What works for you?  The choice of titles for academic articles in higher education’  SRHE News, April 2017: 19-22

Hartley, J (2018a) ‘Are psychologists afraid of asking questions?’ (Paper available from the author.)

Hartley, J (2018b) ‘Choosing a title for your thesis. What are the most frequent formats?’  (Paper available from the author.)

Hartley, J and Morgan P (2018) ‘Are historians afraid of posing questions? The titles of articles in history journals’  (Paper available from the authors.)


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What works for you? The choice of titles for academic articles in higher education

By James Hartley

The range of possible forms of titles available to authors in higher education is considerable, but few styles are actually used. An analysis of over 250 titles shows that authors employ colons most, short sentences next, and questions least of all. In Academic Writing and Publishing (Hartley, 2008) I distinguished between thirteen types of titles used in academic articles and I provided examples for each one (see Appendix). But disciplines vary and some types of titles are more common than others in different subjects.

In this note I report on the types of titles used in 260 articles on research in higher education published in the SRHE’s Research into Higher Education Abstracts, Vol 50, No. 1, 2017. I categorised these titles into three groupings as follows:

1. The most popular format: the colon (60%)
a) Title with colon (short: long) N = 73
Example: Divergent pathways: the road to higher education for second-generation Turks in Austria.
b) Title with colon (long: short) N = 47
Example: The influence of curricula content on English sociology students’ transformations: the case of feminist knowledge.
c) Title with colon (equal: equal) N = 30
Example: Let’s stop the pretence of consistent marking: exploring the multiple limitations of assessment criteria.

2. The next most popular format: the single sentence (30 %) Continue reading