Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal for Researcher Development, Volume 2, Issue 2
I write this editorial from an apartment in Lyon, where I’ve been privileged to spend almost five months of this year (2011) as visiting professor at l’Institut Français de l’Education within the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon – an experience that certainly contributed to my own development as a researcher. I found little difference between life in the French academy’s elite grandes écoles and life in the UK’s Russell Group, where I have spent my entire academic career. Research-focused academics work mainly from home rather than at the office, they often attend meetings in Paris or other cities, and they spend a great deal of time on international travel, so it was not unusual for several days to pass without my seeing any of my closest colleagues. Yet this, along with the busy programme of seminars and journées d’étude where people came together to exchange ideas and debate issues, contributed towards a vibrant research culture, where researchers at all career stages benefited from countless development opportunities.
I did, however, identify a gap on the landscape of French research: a paucity of research into higher education – which the French themselves are aware of. Despite the attention that we in the UK lavish on one of France’s most famous academic sons, Pierre Bourdieu, whose Homo Academicus represents a landmark study of the sociological basis of the French academy, across the Channel higher education research is still a neglected, under-recognised, and hence a developing, substantive field. In the UK and many other European countries, and in North America, Australasia and South Africa, as well as some Asian countries, we are further ahead – if “ahead” is the right word to use – insofar as the last 15-20 years have seen what might justifiably be termed an explosion of research that is focused on higher education. Sparks from that explosion have ignited interest in related, and sub-, fields such as academic working life, academic development, doctoral education, and of course, researcher development (though, as I am always careful to point out, I do not consider researcher development to lie entirely within the field of research into higher education, for not all researchers or potential researchers are affiliated to the higher education sector).
It is on the development of researcher development as a field of research and scholarship that I was asked to speak at the recent Vitae researcher development international conference, held in my home city of Manchester in September 2011. Tony Bromley, one of the International Journal for Researcher Development’s associate editors, initiated and organised a very successful research strand within the conference, where researchers, academics and academic-related colleagues presented a range of papers, several of which are likely to appear in a future issue of the journal. An expanded version of my own keynote paper, proposing a research agenda for the field, is the first of the papers in this current issue. I hope it will serve as a steer to potential authors, indicating the nature and foci of articles that the editorial board and I want to see published in the International Journal for Researcher Development. Above all, we want to widen the range of papers, moving away from collections of those that merely describe, to include those that also analyse and theorise and address the why and how questions that are fundamental to real scholarship. We welcome papers that are original in focus and scope: that address issues that have hitherto remained unexamined, or that propose new conceptual or theoretical models, extending the parameters of researcher development as a field of research and scholarship. This issue is a collection of such papers.
The paper by Robert Bray and Stuart Boon, academic developers at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, is an examination of the application of a UK-specific initiative, the researcher development framework (RDF) developed by the organisation, Vitae. The authors report their case study of the usefulness and effectiveness of the framework’s personal development planner, as perceived by its users: developing researchers. It may have been tempting for Bray and Boon to have remained smug and self-satisfied with having penned the very first (we believe) evaluation of the Vitae RDF in action, and to have merely provided an account of what their study entailed and what findings it threw up – that alone would have constituted an original contribution to the knowledge base. But they were not content to stop there. Consistent with the International Journal for Researcher Development editorial board’s commitment to publishing, in the journal’s Research and Theory section, only articles that demonstrate scholarship or analyticism by going beyond mere description, the Strathclyde authors incorporate into their paper reflective discussion that is informed by relevant theoretical perspectives. This paper will not only be immensely useful to UK-based colleagues who are themselves engaged in researcher development activities that draw upon the Vitae RDF, it will also be of much interest to overseas-based readers who may apply the framework to their own contexts.
In my own paper I propose extending the parameters of what counts as researcher development in order to widen its focus. The third paper in this issue reflects such width of focus. Australasian authors Terry Evans, Ian Brailsford and Peter Macauley analyse the substantive foci of history PhD theses carried out at universities in Australia and New Zealand, drawing out the implications for researcher development. A far cry from the experientially-based descriptive accounts and case studies that constitute the bulk of submissions to the International Journal for Researcher Development, this is the first article to collate and analyse history thesis data in Australia or New Zealand and apply them to consideration of researcher development-related issues. The fourth article, a conceptual paper from Swedish- and South African-based Eva Brodin and Liezel Frick, proposes a theoretical framework for conceptualizing critical and creative thinking within doctoral study. Such is the theoretical development that is a key dimension of any field of study. I first encountered this paper at a conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in April 2011 and, excited by its originality, I urged the authors to write it up for submission to the International Journal for Researcher Development. I am delighted that they agreed to do so – and delighted with the result. Finally, in the Researcher Development in Practice section we have an account, written by a group of doctoral candidates and post-doctoral early career academics (Theresa Mercer, Andrew Kythreotis, Carol Lambert and Gill Hughes), of a most successful researcher development initiative: conferences organised by research students, for research students, and that attracted participants representing 25 universities, from seven countries and three different continents.
This issue – the second to be published under Emerald – marks the end of another year. 2011 has been a most eventful year for the International Journal for Researcher Development: a year of many changes, in which I took over the journal’s editorship and we expanded our editorial team to include four new assistant editors. It has also been a year in which we have begun to see an expansion of the journal’s geographical scope – both in relation to readership and contributors. This issue is truly international in content and reach, with a range of papers representing three continents, reviewed by colleagues representing four continents. I am convinced that we are well on the way to ensuring that the journal becomes recognised globally as leading the discourse on all issues related to researcher development policy, practice and theory.