Do you find you’re now working on something you never thought you would when you were planning your career? The variety of experience that you accumulate might allow for creativity; playful combinations create new ideas (Mednick, 1962). Working across disciplines allows you to bring ideas from one experience to another. You’re being a boundary creature (Adams, 2013).
As a research associate, it’s wonderful to be working with other people instead of isolated on a PhD. A PhD should be a research apprenticeship, but an apprentice learns sitting next to Nellie, not in isolation. Now I learn from the others around me, work in a team with people who have experience in other disciplines, and share my scribbles with peers not just supervisors. Now, I see project management in action having been exposed to the vagaries and wonders of electronic portals such as Glasscubes and Box.com.
Interdisciplinarity becomes important now. My PhD was under the auspices of the business school, proposed from my business experience but I worked in business IT; I can program and analyse, which is why I now tutor so many technical and computing courses, and I’ve achieved my aim – to be a hybrid. However, in moving between disciplines, I realise that I don’t know how to access some papers, such as the ACM conference papers, which are very important in my new fields. Indeed, I don’t know the fields well enough to realise when a pair of words represent an important concept, not just a piece of management speak. For instance, an EU deliverable requires identification and specification of “orchestration factors”. For four days, I meandered around the wrong literature looking for “orchestration”. Thank goodness for team work – a colleague said, “Dillenbourg” and I was immediately into the right realm.
Interdisciplinarity then comes with advantages and disadvantages, pitfalls and pleasures. Enjoy the pleasures
Pat Thomson blogs on interdisciplinarity
Adams, A., Fitzgerald, E. & Priestnall, G. (2013) Of catwalk technologies and boundary creatures, ACM Transactions of Computer-Human Interaction (In Press).
Dillenbourg, P., Sharples, M., Fischer, F., Kollar, I., Tchounikine, P., Dimitriadis, Y., Pablo Prieto, L., Igancio Asienso, J., Roschelle, J., Looi, C.-K., Nussbaum, M. & Diaz, A. (2011) Trends in Orchestration: Second Research & Technology Scouting Report. STELLAR Consortium
Mednick, S. (1962) The associative basis of the creative process, Psychological Review, 69, 220-232.
I’ve been so busy learning about research, researching with others instead of on my own like you do in a PhD that I haven’t had time or thoughts to blog. Shortly after my last blog posting, I joined another research team, so I’m now working on two research projects. One is about older people on-line, and one is about juxtaposing learning and performance.
I’ve been consolidating the learning I did on my PhD but also learning more, like how to run focus groups, and how to set up an analysis database that I must share with others who might want evidence from it. I’ve used qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) before, and set up codes for analysis, but not shared my codes. For example, if you’re looking at the advantages of participating on line, an advantage might be physical, and I’ve created a node in the database called ‘physical’. But that’s not enough to share with someone else. Like using one character identifiers for variables in programming code, it’s not self-descriptive, and I must rename it ‘physicalDifficultiesSurmounted’.
The JuxtaLearn project is an EU project and seems to involve an awful lot of paper work and bureaucracy, but then there are lots of people researching together, people from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Sweden as well as the UK, and we all have different things to do. Apparently, what we do comes in work packages (WP) and there are nine or ten work packages, and each work package has deliverables due at various times over the next three years. So you can see that serious project management is needed to pull all these packages together in the right order and on time, or at least in time. It’s an interesting project because it is about learning and technology, both of which interest me. Learning’s about what people do and I can’t think of anything better than researching people and technology.
- coding text
- collecting interviews
- coding and analysing interview transcripts.
“Life stuff distracting me from work stuff”
At the same time, I was in the middle of an email discussion with a colleague early career researcher who’s been offered a full-time one year teaching post at a minor northern university, while she’s also got a full-time six month post near home. The poor woman has a dilemma, whether to choose the job close to home but away from a research career, or the lecturer job that should help her to build up an academic career but too far from home.
though the article discusses academic couples rather than where only one is an academic. That’s another issue being debated in the Twitter #ecrChat – the problems of communicating what you do when your partner isn’t in academia. I’ve not too much sympathy with that communication problem since it must happen to many couples – for example bankers married to teachers, teachers married to carpenters, carpenters married to housewives, housewives married to bankers. It’s perennial. But regardless of communication, career choices must be made: the Guardian journalist writes,
“We cannot be the only couple in this position, forced to compromise the career of one so that the other may flourish.”
In Paris, a couple of weeks ago, I presented a paper on how boundary objects afford engaged behaviours and thus engaged behaviours allow strategising activities. The presentation elicited half a dozen questions, all useful.
One of the biggest problems is my anecdotal discussion of boundary objects, probably because when I collected my data, I noticed them but without enough detailed analysis or reporting of them. So I need to identify their categories, attributes and functions. Boundary objects seem to be stuff shared between different stakeholders to a project. Definitions of boundary objects include Star and Greismer’s (1989) initial referral to one as “an analytical concept of those scientific objects that inhabit several intersecting worlds,” the “intersecting” implying a shared overlap between the different worlds of the object holders. Boundary objects are adaptable and robust, “adaptable to different view points and robust enough to maintain identity across them“. I think what they mean is that when people who different things meet, this stuff that they share helps them also share meanings, value, knowledge and indeed to create new knowledge – the excitement of meeting at the boundaries, of pushing at the boundaries of your own discipline and of learning from another discipline. What categories of boundary object push you into another discipline?
Categories according to Star & Greismer again are four: repositories, ideal type, coincident boundaries and standarised forms. Later Levina and Vaast (2005) identified boundary objects as either designated (you’ve got to use them) or objects-in-use (more informal stuff that people develop as they go along).
I haven’t got a research question for this paper but perhaps there’s something about whether particular categories of objects span particular boundaries, and whether particular categories afford engaged behaviours better at some boundaries than at others. How do you get a research question?
Levina, N., Vaast, E. (2005) The Emergence of Boundary Spanning Competence in Practice: Implications for Implementation and Use of Information Systems. MIS Quarterly 29, 335-363.
Star, S.L., Griesemer, J.R. (1989) Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science (Sage) 19, 387-420.
This publishing strategy is working and an academic journal has accepted my paper for publication! Wey-hey! Am I pleased! It is less than a year since I finished my PhD and someone wants to publish my work.
A few months ago, here, I mused on whether I should publish in journals or whether a conference was a publication. My strategy was to present at conferences, get feedback and edit my writing in order to get an acceptable paper to publish. Last year I presented at the Academy of Management biennial conference of the Management Consulting Division. Earlier this year, I presented at the UKAIS conference. My examiner was in the audience.
A couple of weeks later, said examiner emailed me to ask if, given review feedback I could revise the paper by 1st May for the possibility of its being accepted for a special issue of the relevant journal in August. Ex-supervisors and I have been working on a paper for a different journal at the same time as I was preparing the conference paper, but you can’t publish similar papers because that’s self-plagiarism. So we worked the two papers together, addressing the review feedback – thank you to the reviewers – and put it together in time. It was accepted.
Not only that, but as a consequence of preparing for that research interview a few weeks ago a colleague told me of a strategy-as-practice workshop that was looking for papers and realised that my research had aspects that might be relevant. I proposed a paper and proposal was accepted. The full paper is now written and uploaded. With feedback from the workshop in June maybe we (supervisors & I) can write another paper this year.
I’ve had a couple of interviews now for research associate, but not a lot because I’m picky about what I want to apply for, and don’t apply unless
- I really want the job
- I believe I’m good enough to do the job
But the competition has been better and I’ve not been offered the posts.
It’s all part of learning. One interviewer debriefed me by explaining that I didn’t go far enough on following through some thoughts on how a theory that I’d used in my PhD thesis might apply to the area we were discussing. That’s important, because it was an interesting discussion and made me think it would be fun to work with these academics and I would continue to enjoy such discussions – but they found someone better. Fair enough.
In another, perhaps more structured interview, it was clear what sort of questions each interviewer had in mind. I share them in case you, dear reader, are also anticipating such interviews:
- Methodological experience – describe a time when you had difficulties of access? I had difficulties here, here and here, the last being the most interestingly difficult.
- Publishing intentions – what’s your publication strategy? I’m presenting papers at conferences and then with conference feedback hope to develop them further to submit to journals.
- Limited experience in the area – where do you think you’d take time to get up to speed (in this new area)?
- Career – how do you see your career progressing? I find this question slightly startling as being so old and of a generation when educated women were encouraged to go into teaching or nursing “in case you get married” I have rarely been asked this question. It’s nice to think that interviewers expect a career of me (though cynically they have to ask the same questions of every interviewee) and indeed I recently heard on Radio 4 Saturday live program of a woman, Mary Hobson who completed her PhD at 74 and is now an award-winning translator of Russian novels, so I have the role models.
- What wider academic activities do you undertake? I’m not sure what they’re looking for here. I tutor, monitor and have acted as an adviser. I happen to have a little coding work, a little analysis work and some research interviews. Perhaps they are asking if I attend conferences and workshops or support other students in some way. I mentioned the LAK12 MOOC that I’d been following and that was novel to them since none of them had heard of Massive Open Online Courses.
Again, I didn’t get offered the job because they had people who were better experienced in the relevant area. The feedback from that research interview was encouraging: they considered my answers measured and thoughtful, and told me to apply for future posts.
Perhaps I need to scupper the competition.