A few days ago I attended the first workshop at my university’s School of Education hosted by our new Associate Dean of Research. The topic was “Building a Foundation for a Program of Research: Navigating the Complexities”. The hour and a half long session moved through four overarching steps, but started with an exercise that did a great job of making the participants recognize their (un)awareness of the research landscape in our prospective fields. We (there were two faculty members and seven doctoral students in attendance) were given a sheet with three prompts:

  • Describe your program of research in 25 words or less.
  • Name three journals in your field where your program of research best fits.
  • For each of these journals, name at least three members of the editorial board who are most likely to be reviewers of your manuscripts.


We were given about ten minutes to work through these, and the disquiet that set across the room was palatable. These apparently simple and innocuous three little points slammed us into questioning our work, our engagement with our respective fields, and our knowledge of our scholarly communities. With our egos checked, the workshop proceeded to work the intricacies of, pretty much, strategizing an entire academic career.

Let me run through the agenda to try and show just how overwhelming it felt. First, we need to start publishing, usually with relevant reviews of literature and small studies–though not full pilots–so that we can make references to our own knowledge in future grant applications. Reflect on whether there are research questions, often broader than our own, that the field is ready to fund? Second, begin conducting pilot study(ies) to establish feasibility of your research and your capacity (and your institution’s) to support that work. Keep in mind that you need to begin developing and establishing necessary relationships, specifically for letters of support in your grant applications. Which leads into step three, networking. Ensure you’re establishing your professional identity in the field, and definitely reach beyond the people in your doctoral program (thank you, GO-GN!). Now for some almost obscenely complicated strategy: keep those who might be potential reviewers of manuscripts/grants/promotion + tenure packages at an “arm’s length” so that they won’t be nullified as a potentially positive reviewer. Conversely strategize about how to nullify potentially negative reviewers. Now, fourth, always be mindful of building research capacity through teams. Find and collaborate with those who offer complementary skills, those who can bolster applications as contributing consultants, advisory board members who can facilitate and lend impact to and from your work. Establish relationships with community partners–practitioners on the ground–that demonstrates your engagement and the ability for your work to make tangible impact.

Then just watch the grant funds roll right in. Got it?

Talk about making a room full of graduate students (and perhaps those two faculty members) feel inadequate, ill-prepared, and undermined. One fellow doctoral student admitted feeling that they might just “not have the bandwidth” for an academic career.

Admittedly this is just one set of guidelines for one particular approach to a research-oriented academic career strategy. One that skips over the pretty substantial barrier of first landing a tenure-track position. Not to mention the absolute unlikeliness of getting such a position in unestablished field like open education.

This led me to think that the topic of career strategies is an excellent topic for GO-GN to explore. I unfortunately had already submitted my ideas for the 2017 Seminar in Cape Town when this showed up on my radar, which is why I’ve authored this post. At the 2016 Seminar in Krakow, the GO-GN I think about half of us fell into a full-time student category, while the other half are employed in a variety of positions in universities already. For those with ongoing employment, the direction would seem to be to pursue open education research as their schedules permit, necessarily balancing their personal lives with job responsibilities first and relegating their research activity to the margins (though this would of course depend on the parameters of the specific job responsibilities and support of colleagues, supervisors, and institutions).

But for those of us who might begin to see the end of their PhDs as a precipice off which they will soon be thrown, the way forward for an open educational researcher is perhaps even more unclear. Will the end of our PhD and the time and focus it allows for exploring open education come to a halt, will there be brief departure, to only maybe restart in the way that others might be able to marginally engage as mentioned above?



I think the broader issue here–beyond my own professional anxieties–is sustainability. I think this could be a brilliant topic for a portion of the 2017 GO-GN Seminar, one that could be helpfully facilitated by the OER Hub staff to share their career paths and their projections for careers in the field. Guiding questions might include:

  • How can GO-GN begin developing supports for post-PhD careers?
  • What career paths make sense for open education researchers?
  • What might be entailed in a shift from researcher to practitioner, how are they aligned and how do they overlap?
  • How can PhD open education researchers strategize beyond their programs of study?
  • How can GO-GN activate beyond its second “G”, the “graduate student” aspect of the network?

Given the excellent beginnings to a supportive network for open education students in this nascent field, it would be great to see us at GO-GN start to turn an eye to towards open education careers.


Thinkers CC-BY 2.0 by Flickr user Osbornb

network CC-BY 2.0 by Flickr user Rosmarie Voegtli

Jamison Miller

Written by Jamison Miller

1 Comment

Viviane Vladimirschi

Hi Jamison and GO-GN colleagues,

Thank you for your very thought-provoking post. I guess we are at all at a point where we need to give some deep thought to these issues. I thought I would get this discussion started so here is my two cents on this subject.

My response to your post are just my own personal reflections and processes since I started my study last year and by no means attempts to reflect GO-GN’s positions on these issues.

First, I really do wonder if it is GO-GN’s mission or responsibility to provide any support for post-PhD careers. While GO-GN is doing a terrific job of connecting OE researchers from around the globe, providing us with invaluable research information via monthly webinars, opportunities to showcase our studies during seminars and during the OE Global conference in addition to offering us the opportunity to do networking, meet other scholars and exchange with peers, I do not think it is their responsibility to support us afterwards. Whether each and every one of us will pursue a career in the OE field upon completion of our PhD is a very personal decision.

I cannot speak for the others but I thought it could be interesting to share a bit of my personal story involving OE and OER. Since I started my study last year, I have done a lot of networking here in Brazil and have become involved in several OE and OER projects, which are currently being undertaken by OER Brazil and other educational NGO’s. I felt the need to do so due to the fact that I was new to the field and my involvement would not only benefit my study but would also enable me to learn from the experts in the field. It has taken a good dose of effort, perseverance and hard work to engage with the OE experts here in Brazil. It has taken my willingness to do work basically for free so as to prove to these experts that I am fully committed to the cause. While I consider myself to be an expert in Distance Education, I am a novice in OE. Thus, it may take a while for me to establish a career in this area.

Perhaps once you finish your PhD, you will choose to follow another career path. You will have certainly opened the door to a new career. My option to undertake research in this area has definitely impacted by future career path. More and more I see myself as an advocate for OE and OER and more and more I see myself actively working in this area.

I really enjoyed Martin’s webinar ‘Paradoxes of Open Practice’ and am focusing my efforts on creating an “open identity that I feel comfortable with”, “one that maintains my voice and opinions” taking into consideration the experience I already possess with distance education. Due to Brazil’s current economic turbulence, the use of OER have become vital if not imperative. Naturally, there are many barriers and challenges to be overcome and these greatly vary according to cultural, social, behavioral and technological issues. Government in Brazil is everything but an “open” institution. Brazilians are what you could call a “low frequency culture”, one which strives to perpetuate the status quo since it serves well the interests of the politicians and of a very tiny portion of the population. Public education lacks both investment and resources. More importantly, teachers lack professional development and will only do what the school administration or the Ministry of Education dictates. So how does one go about fostering changes and innovation when all odds are stacked against you? Fortunately, there are others who think like me in Brazil and these are the people I have chosen to join forces with.

Secondly, once you start researching the field it is very difficult not to become a “practitioner” since from my perspective a lot of hands-on is required to understand the complexities of OE and OER. For example, before I started my study I actually developed OER (also for free) so that I could better understand the skills required and the challenges faced by those who wish to assemble and repurpose OER. In this sense, OE research and practice are very aligned. It is quite hard to research this field and not get your “hands dirty” figuratively speaking. Just knowing the theory of it all won’t get you very far if you haven’t actually had any practical experience with using and creating OER.

Finally, sustainability in this or in any other field substantially depends on luck, connections established during networking, dedication, commitment to the cause and our own personal talent.

GO-GN has already given us a jump-start in this sense. I think the rest depends on how much effort we put into this endeavor.

I look forward to exchanging ideas and seeing you all in Cape Town!


PS: I conducted very interesting interviews with Henry Chesbrough, TJ Bliss and John Wiley last year. If anyone is interested, please let me know and I will be more than pleased to share the YouTube link with you.

Leave a Reply