Written by Ian McDonald, Research Officer, Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment (CEBE) and ‘dabbling’ educational researcher
I’m not sure if such thing as a ‘normal’ researcher exists, but if such a thing does exist I’m certainly not one – I don’t have an ‘academic’ contract and am employed in research support in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment (CEBE). I tend to describe myself as a ‘hobby’ researcher, a ‘twilight’ researcher or an ‘accidental’ researcher.
Firstly I should explain how I got into dabbling in academia. Whilst I was the Undergraduate Course Administrator in the (then) School of Property, Construction and Planning, a colleague who led a module about ‘society’ on the MSc Construction Project Management course, asked me, as a Social Policy graduate, to give a lecture to his students on political ideology. I survived (!) and enrolled on the Postgraduate Certificate – Learning and Teaching course which I passed. I then moved to my current job as Research Officer in CEBE and continued to study the remainder of the M.Ed. A combination of these factors resulted in the research ‘bug’ biting, but initially I wasn’t sure how to take the interest further and develop it. I saw an advert for a new pedagogical journal, based at a little known university in North Carolina which asked for papers and book reviewers. I contacted the editor and ended up writing a review of Stefan Collini’s ‘What are Universities for?’ for them. I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write an M.Ed assignment in the style of a journal paper which, after some kind guidance from the editor and one of my colleagues, was published in an higher educational research journal. Following on from this, I’ve been fortunate enough to recently have a second journal paper published, be involved in some conference papers and a current project with two academics in CEBE, which is examining the state of the Faculty’s ‘research culture’. However, my most prolific form of writing is in the form of book reviews which I churn out quite a number of, for higher education journals, but more often for church history/theology journals – another academic interest of mine.
So, what would be my advice to support staff who are interested in experimenting with research?
- Book Reviews. These are a great place to start and to experiment. Many journals are crying out for book reviewers, especially young keen ones who can complete reviews on time. As well as getting published you’ll also get free books, which is a bonus too.
- Don’t say “I’m just an administrator”. We have as much to say about education as academics and it can be just as useful – some would say more so at time! In an era of greater professionalism in higher education administration, we are often as educated and intellectually capable as those in learning/teaching and research roles, so please don’t feel inferior. There are journals (such as Perspectives –Policy and Practice in Higher Education) which are specifically aimed at administrators/managers and want papers based on their practice and research.
- Find helpful and supportive academic colleagues. I’ve been fortunate enough to be actively encouraged by ‘sympathetic’ academics. There are lots out there who will be more than happy to encourage you.
- Remember what you’re paid to do. A slightly cautionary word – I believe it’s important to remember what you are actually employed to do and not to take advantage of people’s support and encouragement.