Friday 20 January 2017

Impact in Management Research

How, when and for whom does management research create impact? 

The British Journal of Management has a new special issue out this month on Impact and Management Research.  

If you're interested, the visual abstract available here and the abstract is as follows:

This paper introduces the special issue focusing on Impact.  We present the four papers in the special issue and synthesise their key themes, including dialogue, reflexivity and praxis.  In addition, we expand on understandings of impact by exploring how, when and for whom management research creates impact and we elaborate four ideal types of impact by articulating both the constituencies for whom impact occurs and the forms it might take. We identify temporality as critical to a more nuanced conceptualization of impact and suggest that some forms of impact are performative in nature. We conclude by suggesting that management as a discipline would benefit from widening the range of comparator disciplines to include disciplines such as art, education and nursing where practice, research and scholarship are more overtly interwoven.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Top 10 Things Every PhD Student Should Do (at least once)

1. Read beyond your course

Visit the library, browse the shelves and pick something obscure but challenging. Stretching your mind is never a bad thing.

One of the main dangers with a PhD is you have so much reading to do, that you stop reading for pleasure.  Try and avoid that happening.  We’re not talking pulp fiction here but you could do worse than begin by trying some philosophy (unless that’s what you’re already studying).  Your degree is after all called a Doctorate in Philosophy. Some exceptionally bright people have been thinking about the nature of our existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language for some time now. They may even be brighter than your supervisor(s). As a genre, philosophical writing is persuasive; you are reading the opinion of an author trying to convince you of the plausibility or implausibility of their position. You need to think, reflect upon and carefully consider the argument. Think of this as a trip to the theory gym following a New Year’s resolution. In business and management we have become accustomed to practical or technical discourses with a logical, linear presentational form. Theoretical forms of thought are often much harder to read.  Don’t skim read but don’t fret if you don’t follow every thought, the authors probably didn’t when they were writing either.  Here a five books to have go at: The Republic (Plato); Tao Te Ching (Lao Tsu); Meditations (Marcus Aurelius); Beyond Good and Evil (Friedrich Nietzsche), and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig).  If you are already studying philosophy do something completely different. Learn to bake, sky dive or play an instrument.

2. Don’t hide from your anxiety

The support network in most universities is second to none. Make use of it.

Depending on what report you read or set of statistics you believe, between 25% and 50% (or more) students say that anxiety affects their performance at university at some stage.  The same issues affect many academics too. The simple act of acknowledging your anxiety, preferably in the company of a sympathetic listener, will begin to make a difference.  The relentless advance of technology has left us “always on” and less able to tolerate ambiguity. Waiting for anything from an inter-library loan to some feedback on your draft chapter can create anticipatory anxiety.  Perhaps those who appear relaxed are just better at masking their anxieties. Most people find deadlines stressful. Seek help early and preferably before things are seriously interfering with your ability to function. If you’re worried about the reaction you’ll get console yourself by remembering how much people in the counselling service, student union or elsewhere would love the opportunity to make a positive difference. By being brave enough to reach out to them you’ll end up feeling better and you’ll be keeping them in a job.

3. Volunteer

Present at conference, lead a workshop in your department, do a guest lecture or even organise a social activity.

Really, just make a start. Self-starting is an essential life skill for PhD students and academics alike. Start doing the things that you had hoped to avoid for as long as humanly possible.  Let’s face it sticking your head in the sand only means you’ll have a lot of sand to wash off when you finally come up for air.  Whilst there is always a plausible reason to defer until tomorrow something that you would rather avoid, the earlier that you do your first lecture, conference presentation, workshop or interview the less scary the next one will be.  The industry which you have joined is characterised by public speaking, public scrutiny of ideas and a general sense in which you’re expected to take the initiative. If you find these things difficult you have probably chosen the wrong industry. In time, you might grow to love such tasks but you might not. They are however, part of the job so volunteering will at least help you develop a coping strategy.

4. Join the Community

Jobs don’t materialise in a vacuum. Get to know other academic and professional services staff.

Being an academic is sometimes described as being a sole trader. You’re out there on your own trying to sell your ideas to a sometimes reluctant or indifferent community of people selling their own ideas.  One way of coping with the loneliness and isolation is to join a community. If you look hard enough they’ll be all around you. Staff-student liaison committees, class reps, alumni societies, professional bodies, doctoral symposia, conferences and so forth. Volunteering into such fora will help build your network of professional contacts, accumulate evidence of your organizational abilities and offer networking opportunities.  Academia is often a village-like community and knowing the right people in one place can lead to advance notice of opportunities in another. If that all seems a bit nebulous, focus your communitarian tendencies on your publishing activities. Attend research seminars, offer to present working papers, review for relevant conferences and journals. These will all help hone your publishing instincts and publications on your CV will dramatically alter the chances of getting short listed for an academic job.

5. Meet your heroes

There will be titanic figures in the literature. Try to meet them and just accept that they can look smaller in real life.

Most academic disciplines feature a few celebrities. These mythical figures are invited to give keynote addresses and seminars. Find a way to find them but don’t ask them to autograph your tour T Shirt, it will simply embarrass both of you. Getting the chance to hear people speak about the ideas that you’ve digested in written form can often lend new insight and offer clues as to the underpinning thinking and the future direction of travel. Ask them what they’d be focusing their attention on if they were starting out now, then filter out the nostalgic “when I was your age” spin that you might hear. Remember that people and their writing are not necessarily one and the same thing. Some of the most eloquent texts in your field will have been written by people who are more bumbling, confusing and disjointed in spoken form. Equally, the bombast, acerbic humour and comic timing of some academics outweighs their publishing achievements. Not everyone is a polymath so try not to be too harsh if your hero doesn’t seem so heroic in person.

6. Do some teaching

Gain first hand practical experience by applying what you are studying whilst you are still studying it.

Teaching is the lifeblood of every university. It offers you the perfect forum in which to share all this knowledge that you are accumulating.  What could be better that a class of unsuspecting undergrads who will hang on your every word, either through their shared love for the subject or because they fear you may have a hand in marking their work.  Your family and friends (in the real world) have probably stopped listening to you or even pretending to show an interest in your PhD. Focus your energies on a captive audience of students instead. This, of course, is a double edged sword. You might love or hate it, you might be find it easy or more challenging than you’d imagined. Better to find out early in your career.  You might hope to land a full-time academic job when you graduate. Worst case scenario, you’ll gain the knowledge that you don’t really want to dedicate your career to teaching earlier than might otherwise have been the case. Either way, you’ll be accumulating valuable CV collateral which will stand you in good stead once you complete your PhD.

7. Become Multicultural

Speaking a.n.other language helps the cognitive process and is proven to make you smarter/more attractive/richer (delete as appropriate, these may not all be true).

You’d be hard pressed to find a PhD programme that isn’t populated by a diverse mix of nationalities and mother tongues these days. Why not seize the opportunity of some free tutoring whilst you gain your PhD.  Opening your mouth to speak in a ‘foreign tongue’ is of course a source of potential humiliation. Expect some shoulder shrugging and occasional outbreaks of sniggering.  Get over yourself and get vocal. Speaking a foreign language helps you negotiate meaning in general and improves your thinking system.  Your memory will improve, there is some evidence that it can delay the deterioration of your mental faculties. You’ll become more perceptive and your command of your own language tends to improve too as hidden grammatical structures reveal themselves to you. Putting the health benefits to one side, learning the rudiments of another local language will help with ordering drinks, dinner and sorting a taxi home. At least making the effort often counts for a great deal.

8. Stay Healthy

Try and main a work life balance; but don’t kid yourself into thinking you are working when you are not.

A full time PhD is just that, full time.  The phrase 9 to 5 is commonly used to describe the working day, even though many of us work more flexible hours than that these days. Even allowing for lunch breaks and annual leave that is somewhere around 1,500 hours per annum. You know what you have to do in the 4,500 hours that your three years comprises (or however long your funding lasts). If you don’t do the work nobody else is going to do it for you and your PhD shouldn’t be considered as a zero hours contract. It is a long hard slog. There will be times when you will feel elated and others when you will bitterly regret the whole undertaking. Resenting your supervisors, enying your peers their seemingly smooth passage to a painless completion and being totally sure you will fail to submit are normal reactions.  Rest assured that most people do finish and that the key dynamic is essentially about the hours of graft put in at the coal face.  Yes, you will need coping strategies to get through your long dark night of a soul, which might even stretch into your winter of discontent. Resist urges to grow a beard, establish an allotment, learn a martial art, become square dance instructor or whatever whimsy might have fleetingly seemed the best use of your time today. Do you really need to surf social media, check the gossip columns or watch yet more football. Choose one thing as a counterbalance to your PhD studies and become good at it, you have three years after all. Make it something that engages another part of you and doesn’t simply involve sitting, thinking or reading. Anything from archery to yoga and most letters in between will do. Whilst you are at that establish a support network of other PhDs around you. Yes, you are all on an individual quest, but it is nice to have compatriots with whom you can break bread and share stories.

9. Manage your CV

Start cultivating your CV early because editing and re-editing helps. And your online profile counts as part of your CV too.

If you’ve done everything listed in items 1 to 9 above, you will have an incredible amount to put on your CV when you graduate. Sadly, successful CVs aren’t measured in square footage alone.  Curate your CV as the public advert for the person you are, or perhaps wish to become. Linkedin matters and many people use it as a form of electronic CV. Twitter, Facebook, Researchgate and various other social media sites are also public domain unless you manage your settings carefully. Think about the public and private versions of your life. Friends might get the more informal, jocular, sarcastic version of you. But perhaps you shouldn’t allow potential employers to have such unrestricted access to your personality. Find and follow others in your chosen field, both firms and individuals. Create social media bios wisely, people evaluate you based upon what they find. The best Twitter bios combine personal information and professional details and have a confident tone; use a link to your LinkedIn profile. Keep your tweets professional. More than one politician has come to regret something tweeted many moons ago and cast up in a less than forgiving light once they have an important new role.  Academics aren’t quite so high profile but you get the point.  Flippancy should be reserved for a gated community of trusted friends and loved ones.

10. Imagine Life Beyond your Graduation

Allow yourself the luxury of imagining that it has all worked and your PhD has been completed.

At various points your PhD will seem unattainable in the way that the summit of Everest, walking on the moon or becoming a billionaire seem unattainable to most of us. You may be superstitious and not want to jinx the possibility of a successful completion. But, at least once, you should indulge yourself by imagining what life would be like post-PhD. Perhaps the main feature is your graduation day itself with family and friends applauding as you March confidently across the stage to be greeted by the Chancellor or their nominee and handed your scroll. Perhaps it is the idea of a business card, drivers licence or bank card bearing the title Doctor.  Maybe it is the idea of correcting a particularly obnoxious customer service operative with a jaunty "It's Dr [surname] actually".  Whatever it is that floats your boat, think of it, savour the idea and remind yourself that some people far less talented than you are now called Doctor.

Monday 9 January 2017

Top 10 Hints For Understanding Your Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology

1. Don’t worry about the words
The “ology” words are not commonly used even in Greek, the language from which they are derived.

When you begin writing for research you'll need to get to grips with some challenging academic language. In particular, you need to get on top of three very important concepts: Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology. For no apparent reason, research philosophy tends to send research students into a mild panic. The befuddlement caused by a range of new terminology relating to the philosophy of knowledge is unnecessary when all that you are trying to achieve is some clarity over the status of any knowledge claims you make in your study. Within the broader context of the social sciences, there are standard philosophical positions required to specify the particular form of research you plan to undertake. Collectively, these positions will define what is sometimes referred to as a research design. To comprehensively specify your research design there are five interlocking choices that you, the researcher, should make when specifying how you plan to execute your research: 1. Ontology  and 2. Epistemology (which together form your research paradigm) then 3. Methodology 4. Techniques (your data gathering) and 5. Data Analysis Approaches.  There is no single ‘right’ way to undertake research, but there are distinct traditions, each of which tends to operate with its own, internally consistent, set of choices.

2. Choose your Ontology
Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the trivial issue of the nature of reality. 

In choosing an ontological position, you are setting out the nature of the world and your place within it.  Simple yet fundamental stuff.  Ontology is rarely used beyond academic institutions and it can therefore be difficult to know how to use it confidently. The word ‘biology’ means the study of life (since ‘bios’ means life). Using the same logic, ‘onto’ translates as ‘being’ or ‘reality’ hence ontology concerns the nature of reality.  Beyond the realms of science fiction or fantasy novels, we tend to go about our daily lives with a view that there is only one reality. Yet the Matrix, Narnia and many other fictions are inspired by the idea that this is an unnecessarily limited view of the world. Perhaps, the most well-known of these is the brain-in-a-vat scenario, whereby scientists stimulate a disembodied brain with such precision that it emulates a realistic sense of participation in what we call reality. Does the brain experience reality, or is the experience of the scientist somehow more real?

3. Know your Epistemology
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge and is therefore central to any research claims to contribute new knowledge.

Epistemology concerns the way(s) in which we set about obtaining valid knowledge. For instance, if you are asked for the time, and guess it correctly without a watch, is this reliable knowledge? Or should this guess be verified somehow? Would hearing the familiar beeping that announces the time having struck the relevant hour represent definitive confirmation of the precise time.  Or, would you be unsettled to know that transmissions in AM, FM and digital forms of radio can generate varying delays when replayed through particular devices? The importance placed on the verified accuracy of the time would depend upon the context in which you need to know.  If you’re trying to catch a connecting flight the acceptable level of variation may extend to a few minutes. If you are trying to choreograph an Olympic opening ceremony it probably doesn’t.  The term epistemology can be also be deconstructed; ‘episteme’ means knowledge and in literal terms, epistemology is the study of knowledge.  By being clear about the way(s) in which we might obtain valid knowledge we are in turn being clear about the nature of any knowledge claim that we might make.  The observation that happier workers tend to be more productive is one such knowledge claim.  As a researcher, you may wish to debate the validity of such a claim, citing other factors that might influence happiness, productivity, or the relationship between the two.  Hence, we are required to draw connections between the assumptions we hold about reality (ontology) and the ways in which we might develop valid knowledge (epistemology), even if we often tend not to do so explicitly in anything other than the formal, and somewhat erroneously labelled, setting of a methodology chapter.

4. Establish your Methodology
Don’t default to contrasting quantitative and qualitative, define your methodology in more sophisticated terms.   

Methodology is the most commonly used of the ology words. It tends to be used as a shorthand for the ways in which your epistemology, ontology and methodology interconnect. Certain methods of data gathering and analysis tend to follow from certain research paradigms, although it is important to notice that these implied pathways are not fixed. What is truly important is your ability to recognise and justify the interlocking choices which represent your own research design. That is essentially what any PhD examiner or journal editor is looking for when reading your methodology chapter/section.  Someone expressing an objective ontology with a positivist epistemological approach would be making two choices that are naturally aligned in what would often be seen as the conventional and scientific tradition.  Trying to understand whether happy workers are more productive from within such a tradition would likely involve statistical techniques, control groups and the generation of generalizable laws setting out reliable relationships between happiness and productivity.  The same research topic could equally be approached from a subjective ontology generating a more interpretivist approach but both the research itself and the nature of the claims made would be fundamentally different. Telling the reader that you chose quantitative over qualitative (or vice versa) simply doesn’t cut it.

5. So what is the difference between ontology, epistemology and methodology?
They each set out aspects of the knowledge claim you are making from your research

Simply put, ontology relates to the assumptions we make about the nature of reality, epistemology sets out beliefs about how one might discover knowledge about that reality and methodology specifies the tools and techniques that we use in the conduct of our research.  Critically, these three words form relationships to each other. You ontological and epistemological positions should have some bearing on your methodology, which in turn sets out the data collection and analysis techniques that you will employ (assuming of course that your ontology and epistemology don’t challenge the very idea of either data or analyses). In the social sciences getting on top of these individual concepts and their relationship(s) to each other is vital if you want to (a) be able to write articulately for publication and (b) want to avoid social gaffes in your viva / thesis / dissertation.

6. Ideally, choose your techniques last
Don’t start gathering data until you have taken a position on the ologies.  Techniques flow from ologies and not the other way around.

Asking how many interviews will be enough depends critically on why you are doing them. You could be doing interviews ‘as counting’: how many times when people say A do they also say B.  Alternatively, the same interviewer and interviewees could be trying to explore meaning such that you begin to understand how people make sense of A happening when B has not.  What would constitute good practice in terms of your research is therefore contingent on the nature of the knowledge claim that you hope to make. You will only be able to articulate a defensible position by setting out your position in relation to the ologies.  This is why a PhD is a doctorate in philosophy and why you have to “defend” your thesis.

7. Mix your techniques not your ologies
Mixed data collection techniques are de rigueur, however mixed ologies represent an academic faux pas

Vegans rarely order steak, democrats rarely vote republican.  Both options, whilst hypothetically possible, represent a lack of consistency that tends to be read as untrustworthy.  Be clear and consistent in your choice of ologies in order to avoid being seen as flaky, out of your depth or downright deceptive. Individual researchers can mix their ologies but not within the same research project.  These three key concepts emanate from philosophy but it isn’t necessary to have studied philosophy in order to make sense of the terminology.  In essence, you need to set out your research philosophy in order to signal to other researchers where your research fits in their world. If you are being examined (for a PhD or perhaps by an editor or reviewer), you need to show that you have engaged in a conscious set of choices that are internally consistent. Historically, certain research philosophies may have been used for certain topics and methods, yet it would be foolhardy to dismiss the potential for innovation to be found in combining ideas and mixing methods.

8. Classify your heroes
The seminal authors on your field will probably don’t state their choice of ologies explicitly in their written work. However, you should be able to classify their works

The seminal authors in your field will have been read by many. This is what confers on them their status as a hero, often earning them the right to be named as the definite article in the coffee breaks of international conferences and airport lounges … “that’s THE [insert name]”.  Despite their extensive readership and weighty H index, they probably don’t use the ology words in their written output. Indeed, it is relatively rare to find a paper that states that the research was conducted from within a subjective ontology and was interpretivist in its epistemology, whilst adopting a qualitative methodology.  There are many reasons for this, not least the one that is springing into your mind just now! However, as a means of checking your understanding of these terms, you could and should attempt to classify the empirical works of the seminal figures in your field. You could use the Methods Map as a quick means of classifying each piece and ask your supervisor to do the same. 

9. Think of simple example.
Regardless of what you are studying it is helpful to check your understanding of these obscure terms using a simple example like temperature 

From an empirically positivist point of view the temperature outside is currently +10.5°C. This could be presented as an unambiguous fact, verifiable independently by individual observers normally using a thermometer. Largely it shouldn’t matter who is holding the thermometer or taking the reading, it should still read +10.5°C.  In contrast, a constructionist view of temperature would be influenced by social norms, upbringing and beliefs. It would vary between contexts and individual such that it would matter very much who was holding the thermometer. Someone whose childhood was spent near the equator would find +10.5°C decidedly chilly whereas someone whose childhood was spent in the Arctic Circle might find it positively balmy.  Further nuances would be revealed by considering whether warm clothing was seen as a sign of opulence or an indication that you were in some way weak-willed. Fond childhood memories of family holidays spend on the tundra / sand dunes (delete as appropriate) would likely add further colour to one’s perception of the temperature. Remember above all that you, the research should choose a thermometer or a diary study as the appropriate methods for your study once you have made your initial choice of ology. 

10. Check in with your supervisor 
Having classified some of your heroes check whether your supervisor agrees with your classification.

First, be sure to classify your supervisors as a heroes.  Even if the thought of them in tights armed with a handy cape become uncomfortably rooted in your subconscious, it will help the supervision process go well (though you may wish to report any actual instances of dressing up, even on graduation day).  Second, some of your actual heroes are likely to be heroes to your supervisors too.  This should mean that some of their empirical works will be well known and should represent shared points of reference for you and your supervisors. Look for different method e.g. interviews, questionnaires, focus groups etc. and ask yourself if your heroes deploy these in the same or different studies and whether, across research projects, your heroes transition from one set of ologies to another.   Finally, reflect on what the same research topic would look like approached from a different set of ologies.