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The writing on the wall

So things are going well at Newham University Centre.  We have a whole new building dedicated to our students, a new suite of laboratories and a shiny badge of accreditation from the British Psychological Society with which we can attract more students to add to our 900 or so current crop – not to mention a decent vote of confidence from HEFCE.  At the same time, we now have staff rooms filled with new, young and vigorous academics, some with faces still glowing from the completion of their Phds and others with publications lists that run into page numbers greater than their birthdays.  Not bad after just three years.

It is good times.  There is a sense of something exciting going on - although still in its early stages.  There is even a new Research Manager, which means that I am finally facing the inevitability of having to address my own research shortcomings.

The truth is I have no research record.  No Phd.  No publications.  Not a thing.  Many years ago I somehow sidled into a job as an associate lecturer, and from there sidled into a job as a lecturer, and have been merrily ploughing away with nothing more than my lowly MA and enthusiasm to support me.  This has never bothered me over-much – the majority of the lecturers who I looked up to as the most inspiring and the most effective didn’t have Phds, and so I felt myself to be in rather good company.  However when NUC was first envisioned by a small handful of folks in a disused classroom, I drafted a Mission and Vision document designed to reflect our aspirations and included a statement about developing a ‘research culture’.  This was seen as something different to merely the base requirements of any HE lecturer to keep up to date with developments in their own subject.  It meant developing an institution in which teaching was informed by an enthusiastic participation in research by both lecturers and students, and where lecturers were never simply the omniscient gate-keepers of a knowledge already achieved but were always (like their students) active seekers of knowledge themselves.

Sounds good, and certainly this was a clause which I was enthusiastic about at the time.  Back then, the idea of going off and researching was very attractive.  One of the most enjoyably things about my job is (don’t laugh) the hours I spend blissfully in the library pouring over new publications, making notes, writing materials, revising my views, and thinking about how it effects my pedagogical practices.

Back then though, I did not have two small children.  Since then, it has not been so easy to disappear at weekends to the British Library – and frankly given a choice between a day pouring over academic journals or a day getting cuddles from my children the latter seems far more attractive.

Even so, I knew this day would come.  This enthusiastic bunch of research-active academics are making me feel distinctly squeamish about my own research apathy.  I was fortunate enough to start my career when Phds were not a starting requirement for an HE job, but the writing is on the wall – one day soon, someone will turn to me and say in politely suggestive terms that it really might be a good idea if I got on with something.  The topic has already cropped up ominously in my last two appraisals.

It is making me rather nervous.  A few years ago I would have embraced such an opportunity with gutsy confidence, but now the room in my mind which I decorated like an expectant parent for the arrival of a research project has become faded and covered in cobwebs.  Fragile pages of scribbled notes blow across the dusty floor like tumbleweed.  The prospect of going back in and making the whole thing habitable seems daunting after years of working almost exclusively on quality assurance and on teaching.

So – here is my pledge to you (whoever you are).  I promise to… think more seriously about possibly actually starting something maybe.  In the meantime any helpful hints or suggestions would be most welcome!

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