A few days ago I wrote about some of the differences between working in academia and my previous gainful employment with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I’ll continue the reflective theme to kick off this post.
Given my position at Edinburgh Napier a couple of years ago (relatively new to teaching but generally settled as a lecturer and programme leader) I was beginning to catch on that what universities hanker for is a solid research portfolio. In order to fit in with this I was going to have to build up that aspect of my contribution to the institution, regardless of the number of modules I might teach (home and abroad) or the volume of students on one of my programmes (up to 300-350 in recent years). The PhD is therefore a way for me to structure my research efforts, a focus for the sort of topics and themes I’m interested in and ultimately I hope to ‘get something out of it myself’.
The opening to this year’s Business School Research Conference provided some context for this as we heard from the university’s new Vice Principal Academic and the Dean of the faculty. Between them they talked up the importance of research, with its links to the reputation, teaching, income and identity of the institution – this element of our work is therefore intrinsic to our status as a university. I wouldn’t argue against that, particularly as we then heard from Prof Alan Fyall of Bournemouth University, discussing the roles they play within the local economy. The benefits of having a clear contribution to make to the interests of partners and stakeholders were clear, facilitating access to key people and resources, lending authenticity and value to shared projects, and helping to contextualise local efforts in the bigger picture. Alan’s talk captured some of the goals I work towards in my teaching, demonstrating that contemporary forces and structures affect the decisions of those in industry, universities and other partners: it’s vital that students and staff recognise and can interpret the environment they’re operating within. In Bournemouth, England, this means contributing to ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ among other things; in Edinburgh, Scotland, it will increasingly mean following the independence debates and what this will mean for the city’s access to public resources, entrepreneurial opportunities and renewed connections to the rest of the UK and the wider world.
The conference continued with a wider range of excellent student presentations, demonstrating the wealth of talent and energy within the faculty. There was a fairly consistent theme of ‘community’ across some of the work: events and collective memory; virtual communities and customer relationship management; the ability of sporting mega events to cure the ills of host communities; and my own ideas around festivals, communities of interest and social media. The speakers developed their ideas by questioning whether those in positions of relative power understood the needs of those they are working with, with implications for the level of buy-in from that community. Likewise is the community in question brought into the discussion at an early enough stage: the benefits of co-creation can easily be undermined or compromised if the ‘co’ element is too much of an afterthought, or if views are not listened to. These presentations also brought home to me the relative lack of reading that I’ve done, no matter how much talking, discussing and thinking might have taken place! It was interesting to hear from a DBA student looking into social media and CRM that there is far more industry literature available in this area than there is academic. From my own work I would agree that there is still a relative dirth of material on social media, which to bring this post full circle suggests that an academic researcher must keep in touch with the industry to which her or his work is partially addressed.
The first day of the conference rounded off with some wine, nibbles and broken legs in the Chapel, as you do. Spread over an hour or so we were treated to four ‘20x20’ presentations, which variously looked at the life of a graduate teaching assistant, research while incapacitated (the broken leg), my research ideas and a grand tour through a range of research vegetables (you’ve heard of the research onion, now meet the carrot and the tomato). This idea started as something that the organising committee let me run with, but with others on board it seemed to work and I hope its gets repeated.