Deserving of respect: Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Dr Mark Murphy is Reader in Education, School of Education, University of Glasgow. He previously taught at King’s College London, University of Chester and the University of Stirling. Mark has published numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Education Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, European Journal of Education, International Journal of Lifelong Education and the British Journal of Sociology of Education. His most recent book is Social theory and education research: understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida (Routledge, 2013). He is also the creator of www.socialtheoryapplied.com, a website designed to provide a platform for discussion on the relationship between theory and education research. Mark tweets via @socialtheoryapp

Deserving of respect:

Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Taking its lead from the Concordat, one of the questions the #socchat on 30th May 2013 will ask is:   How do we develop a culture which equally nurtures researcher well-being as well as performance?

This is a significant question, quite possibly the most significant when it comes to researcher development. In the recent study on Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried, for example, several reasons cited are clearly emotional in nature: lack of adequate self-esteem, a sense of isolation, a feeling of not belonging in the academic world.

Anyone who works in academia will tell you that we expend a great deal of energy focusing on issues of status, prestige and reputation. The sector is awash with concerns over respect and recognition for one’s talents and contribution to the academic community. Although some would like to think so, these concerns are not peripheral to the academic culture – they are central to it. For me, this is not unusual (such a culture is prevalent in most, if not all, work cultures); neither is it surprising –  people have a strong desire to be recognised and praised for their work  and contribution, essential elements in building a sense of belonging and consequently self-esteem.

It’s not hard to come up with reasons why the affective content of academic life is glossed over or ignored; for a start, a rigid head/heart distinction is practically an occupational hazard. What is more of a concern is the impact of this unacknowledged affective component on the development of PGRs and ECRs. The desire for status and respect can lead academics to focus exclusively on their own career development, sometimes at the expense of their more junior colleagues. It is also the case that some academics see the emotional disaster area that is doctoral study as a kind of rite of passage, a way to earn some stripes in a profession that requires a high level of emotional robustness (if that is the right expression). Why should it be any different for a new generation of researchers?

This emotional context of academic life, however, while evidently part of the problem, is also part of the solution when it comes to developing a culture that nurtures researcher well-being. Whatever hope we have left for senior staff, there is always the opportunity to place concerns over respect, status and reputation explicitly at the core of early career development. In order to do this it is imperative that the PGRs and ECRs in faculties are placed at the centre of activity, rather than on the periphery (a sure-fire way to put people off any career).

This shift will undoubtedly place a bit more pressure on PGRs and ECRs, but the payoff is the development of a culture in which praise, encouragement, constructive criticism, recognition and reward should be actively encouraged. How better to facilitate a sense of belonging and acceptance among PGRs and ECRs? I would also emphasise that a competitive culture can exist alongside a more collaborative ethos, so long as the balance is right.

In this way then the dichotomy hinted at in the original question between well-being and performance becomes less of a rigid distinction and more like two sides of the same coin. People should be rewarded, in an emotional sense, for their academic performance – a normative state that effectively requires this performance to be visible.

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One Response

  1. Hi Jenna
    I like your thoughts in this post. I was particularly struck by the truth of what you said in the second paragraph about the amount of energy that is put into status, prestige and reputation. I have witnessed, alongside of these, a type of ruthlessness which doesn’t always allow space and time for encouraging and ‘building’ less experienced researchers (and indeed, may actually ignore or discourage them). I have also witnessed people thinking that a crude form of identity / impression management can take the place of genuinely robust ‘status, prestige and reputation’.
    Hope this makes sense.
    Jackie

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