Tag: academic work

Guest blogger: Academic work and careers in Europe

Tatiana Fumasoli  (ARENA, University of Oslo)

Tatiana Fumasoli
(ARENA, University of Oslo)

Changing working conditions at European universities are studied in a recent book ‘Academic Work and Careers in Europe – Trends, Challenges, Perspectives’, edited by Tatiana Fumasoli, Gaële Goastellec and Barbara Kehm. In this post, Tatiana Fumasoli tells about the main findings presented in the book.

What have been the rationales and origins of this book?

The book explores the impact of changes in governance, work and careers in European higher education. It observes empirically how and to what extent a European higher education profession is emerging through convergence, standardization and formalization of academic careers.  The book is an output of the project EuroAC – The Academic Profession in Europe: Responses to Societal Challenges, funded by the European Science Foundations and national research councils coordinated by University of Kassel (Germany). It originates from the qualitative data gathered in 8 European countries (Austria, Germany, Finland, Croatia, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Switzerland) by the 8 national partners. Around 500 interviews were conducted with university leaders, administrators and academics.

What are the main common trends in academic work and careers in Europe?

Standardization and formalization of recruitment, promotion and evaluation, as well as of PhD supervision is everywhere apparent and an international dimension is nowadays – at least ideally – integrated in European universities, for instance in hiring, conducting research, teaching.

Competition for academic positions, research grants, publications is increasing at all levels and takes place within and across universities and countries. Such competitive pressures shape increasing differences between global players (countries, universities, academics) and regional players. Thus elite universities, research groups and academics are connecting more among themselves and less within their institutional and national settings.

What are the main differences between the eight European countries you analyze in the book?

In general the increasing institutional autonomy of universities across Europe has shaped complex dynamics that are not completely under the control of states. The stagnating or shrinking public funding has created unequal distribution of resources among universities, which hold different adaptive capacities.

Concretely, national and local practices are still important in the organization of academic careers. In this sense, the landscape of a European academic profession is still rather fragmented. The recent financial crisis has affected European countries quite differently.

Are the main policies on academic careers made at national and institutional levels or does the European Union also play a role?

Literature tips: How far do academics live in social bubbles?

Filipa M. Ribeiro  (University of Porto)

Filipa M. Ribeiro
(University of Porto)

In this edition of the literature tips, Filipa M. Ribeiro, PhD researcher and science writer from University of Porto writes about a new paper on academic social networks. 

By now, it is not a surprise that we live in social bubbles, especially when it comes to social media. It is not uncommon that we discuss with our colleagues the fact that, in practice, we live in social bubbles, in the sense that we relate in an homophilous way unless organizations and institutions give us no choice to do otherwise.

If no other, this is an excellent reason to read the paper published in mid February, by Dimitar Nikolov and colleagues: Measuring Online Social Bubbles, which is a nice follow-up of a doctoral thesis that was reviewed in an earlier post on the Hedda blog.

The paper by Nikolov and collegaues points to the fact that the current web-based systems (eg.: recommendation systems and search engines) based on previously declared social relations amplify the effect of a social bubble, which has previously been argued by Figueiredo (2014). The authors studied data from an American University online traffic, looking at applications of social media, email and search engines. The conclusion is that the level of diversity of information, both at individual and collective levels, is low in the first two and higher in the third (search engine for words or texts). The diversity of information is measured by the number of necessary clicks to connect two content. 

Guest blogger: Just started your PhD? Time to start writing your thesis…

Dr. Siân Lindsay  (University of London)

Dr. Siân Lindsay
(City University of London)

This guest entry is written by Dr. Siân Lindsay who shares some tips on PhD dissertation writing. She works as a lecturer in educational development for the department of Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD) at City University London. Siân is module leader on LEaD’s MA in Academic Practice programme, and is co-convenor for the SRHE Newer Researchers network and conference. Siân holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from Royal Holloway University of London and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Siân’s current research focuses exploring and supporting the PhD student experience and her recently published research on thesis writing can be found here

Siân can be found on Twitter @sianylindsay or emailed sian.lindsay.1@city.ac.uk

Back in late 2003, as a first year PhD student, the thought of producing a 100,000 word thesis was unimaginable and overwhelming. I consoled myself by promising that as long as I worked as hard as possible in collecting lots of data to analyse then writing my thesis would be easy. I would only start writing properly once I had all my data together and could take a holistic view of it all. But that was my mistake, because actually I didn’t get all the data I needed until the final few months of my PhD studentship. I’d left much of the thesis writing until the end and was now facing a colossal and highly stressful task ahead of me. Somehow I did manage to write my thesis in less than 6 months and then passed my viva. But, the stress in doing so had a significant impact.

My experience in part propelled me to undertake some research into the PhD student experience of thesis writing. The other factor was motivated by a need to understand why PhD students can take longer than is ideal to complete their PhD.  In the UK, full-time PhD students should complete their doctorate within 4 years (this includes writing and submitting their thesis), whereas part-time students are allowed up to 7 years. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) publishes research degree qualification rates (RDQRs) for HE institutions running PhD programmes to largely demonstrate how well the 4 or 7 year deadlines are being adhered to. Notably, HEFCE positively discriminates institutions with higher rates with better funding opportunities than those with less than ideal rates. It is important to note that RDQRs are adjusted according to the particular nuances of an institution (e.g. its size, locale, number of PhD programmes etc). As an additional impetus – the stress of letting a PhD run on for too long also has really significant implications on the student: mentally, emotionally as well as financially. Based on several discussions with Senior Tutors for Research at my university, I had hypothesised that thesis writing may represent a significant hurdle in slowing down progression of the PhD (or sometimes even stopping it altogether).

I set about testing my hypothesis by interviewing PhD students who were right in the middle of writing their thesis (or had just completed it). I also wanted to know what worked for these students in writing up (and conversely, what to avoid doing) and disseminate their ideas and advice with others.

Early career researcher representation in CHER

Mari Elken  (NIFU / Hedda)

Mari Elken
(NIFU / Hedda)

Higher education as a research field is expanding and in recent years, an increasing number of early career researchers have  become active in the field.  The Consortium for Higher Education Researchers (CHER) recently included Mari Elken as a representative for early career researchers to the Board of Governors.  Currently, Mari works as a researcher at NIFU, and is in the last stages of her doctoral work at the University of Oslo. Mari is also a graduate of the Hedda master Programme in Higher Education and is the editor of the Hedda blog. This means that this time we turned the tables and the rest of the Hedda team put her into the spot of being interviewed about her new position. 

First of all, congratulations on your new task, how did you end up in this position? 

The debates about early career researchers’ role and position in the field have been going on for some time. This led to a small group of early career researchers at the CHER conference in Reykjavik in 2011 to establish ECHER – Early Career Higher Education Researchers. While ECHER is an independent network, this development was noted by CHER and last year in Belgrade, ECHER got the task to nominate someone for the CHER Board of Governors to highlight the voice of early career researchers.

This is what ECHER did this year in Lausanne at the 2013 CHER conference. I am very grateful and humbled that the ECHER group put me up for nomination and that CHER members supported ECHERs suggestion. I think this is an important development and shows that CHER takes the voice of early career researchers seriously. There are a number of issues that are common for many early career researchers in Europe and beyond, so it is wonderful that there is now an opportunity to discuss these in the wider context of higher education research and explore how the next generation can contribute to developing the field in a fruitful manner. So, I think this is really exciting!

So what exactly is ECHER? 

Guest blogger: PhD projects and Christmas trees – where is teaching in PhD programmes?

Filipa M. Ribeiro  (University of Porto)

Filipa M. Ribeiro
(University of Porto)

This guest entry is written by Filipa M. Ribeiro. She is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Porto and a visiting researcher at Egolab at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She has a diverse background in digital media and science communication. Currently, her research involves topics on ubiquitous knowledge, sociology of science, social and personal networks and diversity of knowledges in higher education. 

The loneliness of the long distance runner

Any PhD comes with a notorious challenge. It is oriented for advanced practitioners or researchers. However, many of us contemporary researchers trying to do a PhD experience it as a dazzling anguish. “It is just a stage”; “It is just a step for something higher”. “It is just the beginning and where you prove that you know how to conduct research”. These are all worn-out lines that every student most likely has heard at some point of his/her efforts to get through their PhD. At that point, the promise they were told that they would get rich, young and beautiful with a PhD is knocked out. And knocked out is how they will feel most of the time during the schizophrenic journey of doing a PhD. And why is that? It seems that, for most cases, PhD students have to know before they are taught, have to teach without being taught, have to learn tools and software that their supervisors don’t master (any peasant in the eastern part of the planet would just laugh if he was told that a teacher does not know what his student has to learn), they have to write papers without having being taught scientific writing or research methodologies in any of their past curricular college years; they have to pay for conferences or summer schools without being properly paid; they have to attend classes that are not only unfit for their research purposes but for current science and this list goes on. And let’s not forget the cherry on the top of the cake: they have to cope with a heavy burden of bureaucracy. Needless to say that doctorate students are not alone in devoting time to such bureaucratic activities. Nor are universities special in this regard.

Why? One of the many reasons that can be pointed out is that there’s an implicit compliance with the fact that bureaucracy and anything else comes before the basic missions a university assumes. Teaching has simply become the missing link in today’s doctoral studies. The researcher Stephan Park links this missing link to expectations and to modern changes in working modes. Shall we, then, just give up the expectation of being taught in a teaching institution?  Is a PhD just about making omelettes without eggs? Especially because if you propose yourself to learn something new, most likely you’ll have to do it alone, despite the fact that you are still taking a degree in an educational institution.