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.
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network

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?

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Thinkers

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.


Images:

Thinkers CC-BY 2.0 by Flickr user Osbornb

network CC-BY 2.0 by Flickr user Rosmarie Voegtli