Day 2: Research behaviours

Now that you’ve thought about where you do your research, and identified some symbols that represent yourself as a researcher, it’s time to turn to the behaviours that demonstrate your researcher self.

Academic and researcher identities are exhibited in how we speak, read, write, behave, and think about the three main elements of academic life: research, teaching, and administration (Barnacle & Mewburn, 2010; Brew, Boud, & Namgung, 2011; Kamler & Thomson, 2006; Petersen, 2007). In a paper on this topic, I listed some of the most common activities in which we perform this researcher self:

  • in seminars, conference presentations, lectures, tutorials and laboratory demonstrations;
  • in reading critically, and in what one chooses to read;
  • in how one writes, for which audience and where it is published;
  • in how one gives and receives feedback on ideas, on writing;
  • in how one interacts with and behaves towards peers, supervisors, and other academics (that is, in terms of collegiality and autonomy);
  • in how one establishes and defends knowledge claims, in what questions are considered worth asking and the answers worth having; and
  • in one’s relations to inanimate objects, such as computers, books, library access cards, lab equipment, room keys. (Guerin, 2013: 140)

Being a researcher includes performing appropriate and competent behaviours, as well as avoiding what is regarded as ‘unscholarly’. Obviously, this depends on the conventions of your discipline and research community: what is regarded as robust, rigorous debate in one seminar room might be considered overly combative and undermining in another; what is accepted as a valid research method or legitimate evidence in one field may be impossible in another.

I was reminded of this last point when a researcher in public health explained to me that she wanted to use evidence from fiction to make a point about her project. For me, as a scholar working in literary studies, I was readily tuned into the idea that novels can tell us important things about people and their worlds. But this HDR’s supervisors in public health were outraged by her suggestion – for them, fiction has no validity as evidence!

Working in interdisciplinary areas can sometimes create challenges when the expectations about how to behave as a scholar or researcher conflict. Noticing how others act in certain situations – and how those around them respond – can be helpful in making informed decisions about the kind of researcher you want to become.

ACTIVITY: Do you have a sense of what kind of researcher you want to be? Is there an academic or researcher you’ve observed who you regard as a role model for the type of researcher you aspire to be? What do they do as researchers that you admire? Please share your stories via the Comments at the bottom of the screen to tell us about these researchers.

For HDRs, a powerful influence in developing a sense of oneself as a legitimate researcher is the feedback delivered by supervisors (Inouye & McAlpine, 2019). Lots of this feedback is channelled through advice on writing when supervisors respond to chapter/article drafts. Inouye and MacAlpine explain:

feedback encourages critical thinking about research, disciplinary knowledge and writing expectations, and how the author represents him/herself in the text. This in turn may influence changes in doctoral students’ overall sense of themselves as researchers and research writers, by raising awareness of the need to be autonomous in their work, building confidence, and beginning to be positioned as experts (or not) by other researchers.

Other doctoral candidates have identified the powerful effect of being legitimised by their university through successful achievement of candidature milestones (Creely & Laletas, 2019). Together, these institutional academic voices play an important role in the development of a sense of being a researcher.

ACTIVITY: How has supervisor feedback helped you to feel like a proper researcher? What aspects of feedback have a positive effect on this emerging sense of yourself? You might also have had moments when feedback has troubled that sense of yourself as a researcher, making you feel that you’ve still got a long way to go (we explored that idea in relation to ‘imposter syndrome’ in the Pomodoro Break on Emotions and the PhD). Please share your stories and insights about how supervisors influence this sense of a researcher identity (use the Comments function at the bottom of the screen).

It would seem that it’s not quite enough simply to take the name ‘researcher’ for ourselves; this identity needs to be validated by others in the research community, too. Getting a bit theoretical, this is what Althusser (1970/2008) describes as ‘interpellation’. Basically, we take on an identity when someone else calls us by that name, and we turn in response to that name, thereby assuming that identity. Our sense of being a researcher relies on others recognising us as researchers.

Tomorrow we are going to look more closely at the idea of ‘voice’ in writing and how it contributes to our sense of a researcher identity.

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