The comments from other accountants working in academia will give you a range of insights which concern bringing research to practice. Read through the three topics below and reflect on the issues in the box preceding the quotes relating to each topic. As you read, make a note of any actions you might wish to take and add them to your Researching Accountant Development Plan.
7. Bringing research into teaching
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
And so [when you have done research] the depth from which you teach, and the depth from which you can then engage with people, and with your peers, and with your students, I mean that's so much more. And the deeper your pool is to delve from, the more you are a wealth of information to your students, and to your colleagues. And ultimately to your profession. And that to me is the beauty of this. To put something in context, sometimes it's much more important than a message itself. And that is what research gives me, is that it gives you a wider context, and from that is obviously where you get your wealth of information, and get a grasp of it.
I used to manage to give one or two lectures on most courses about my research and I would use the insights from the development of my research. Also in terms of research methods. So when I was supervising student dissertations I would obviously talk the students through the methods they were using, based largely on my own experience
I hope that it will definitely affect my teaching in that I can bring more research more easily and more naturally into the teaching, and also keep explaining to the students about how the research is important. Not just this is a bit of a thing that you need to do for your dissertation, so get your lit review done. But actually how that informs the whole dissertation and their thinking as well. And perhaps feed it back into the profession. So hopefully, bringing on people who see the value of research and go on to use that more in the profession.
For me, personally, one of the big benefits of doing research is extending my network of people. So getting out there. Talking to people. Finding out what’s happening in business. Bringing that knowledge back to the students. So, not necessarily what’s written in a paper. But, actually, I have been to visit this organisation. This is what they do. And these are the problems that they are having. I think in a business school, particularly, if you’re not engaging in practices that keep you up to date with what’s going on out there, you are not really giving the students the service that they deserve. So, for me, it is all about bringing that research and taking it into the classroom. That, for me, is the biggest advantage of what I am doing. Being able to do that.
I do try, when I teach on the MBA, to read research and try and incorporate that into my teaching. I think it’s really important that current research is disseminated.
I would say, whatever you do within academia, you will need to research what you are teaching. You will start very, very quickly to read around, or read what people have written on a topic. And that might be financial reporting. Or it might be management accounting, it could be sustainability. It could be anything, really. But you will use research in your teaching to either a greater or lesser extent and you will become aware of what is going on within the field.
It’s almost like we need a 1-2-1 on what research is, how it’s valuable to the profession, how you can use it to enhance your teaching. I think it would be really good if we could have some kind of introductory research course or something entitled ‘research in your teaching’, something along those lines that we could use for new staff. It’s almost going back a step to a research for non-researchers or research for non-researching staff. So people who may have no intention of doing a PhD themselves, but who are coming to research as a new concept. And, in academia, you can’t not come across it. There’s a lot of value in it, but having those basics explained to you is quite difficult.
8. Research informing practice
Now this is an area where it basically adds to the skills that I developed as a chartered accountant. I think chartered accountants are used to robustly evaluating different situations. I think the skills as a researcher basically take that to a much deeper level. So I think I’ve developed skills and insights into how to evaluate evidence at a different level to the evaluation that I learnt during training as a chartered accountant. I’ve tried to apply those skills in all situations. I’ve tried to think things through before I speak about them.
I had to start to look at things differently, to stop looking at things perhaps from an accountant’s point of view. And to start thinking deeper and wider about things. Which, potentially, you wouldn’t necessarily do within a business context. Because you are preparing your report for either a board meeting or for them to make a decision about something. An investment decision. So, you have to do what you can in the time that you have. Whereas, from an academic point of view, it’s that additional rigour. Not just taking things at face value. Really diving down deeply into the issue. Looking at where that originated from. And, also, the fact that from an academic point of view, you have to question everything more. Whereas in a business context, yes, you do question things but not necessarily to the extent that you have to do it in the academic work. So certainly, everything should be challenged, academically.
I do believe that there are specific skills related to research that would be very advantageous to develop. Things like the ability to evaluate and synthesize are really, really important skills. And I think research is very, very good at allowing you to apply those skills, more so than in other areas. This whole analysis and evaluation, particularly these days with the volume of data that’s collected, is just such a critical skill.
Because the research that I’ve done is action research and reflection on my own practice, it’s made me a better lecturer and a better teacher or better facilitator, whichever word you want to use. So the research is about finding something interesting and using it to inform my teaching. It’s good to know that the way I do things is backed up by research.
I’ve not been a Researcher but, just looking at it from, for instance, doing the paperwork for my teaching qualification and all the different case studies I had to write, there was a lot of reflection and it was really important that you were very explicit in the way it was written. And, certainly, everything that I wrote has really made me think about how I do things and the impact that it has. And I think, almost before that, I was very robotic. I’d been doing it for so long. I was going through the motions, without really thinking about impact and how it was affecting any of the stakeholders.
So the impact my research had on my teaching was realising that actually the students are very much open to questioning what they’d thought previously, what they’d been taught previously. And it reaffirmed my belief that what we’re supposed to be doing in a university is not necessarily cramming technical knowledge into the students’ heads but we’re supposed to be encouraging them to think for themselves. It underlined that for me. They need to analyse what they’re being told rather than just accepting what they’re being told, and always trying to go back a step and saying just because that is the received wisdom, what is the justification for it?
I think I have definitely improved my understanding of the methodology. And the differences between method and methodology. And how to approach a question. And I think that makes me a better supervisor for MScs. and student dissertations. I also think it’s helped with my teaching, in that I am more efficient in my selection of very specific papers and questions to illustrate a point with students. I think I am probably able to select better papers, and more focused papers, for my teaching.
With my professional doctorate being a qualitative study, where I’ve found that really has helped me is I feel I’m a better supervisor. With Master’s students as well. Obviously it’s not quite the same level, but in terms of structuring their dissertation, I think I can use some of those skills I have used in my thesis to help them as well.
You learn to be a supervisor first by being a student. My supervisor gave me the freedom and the confidence and direction to develop the skills myself. And to develop my understanding. He would say, ‘You’re going to become more expert than I am on the particulars’. He would prompt and prod with questions but, really, left me a lot of the time to my own devices. I think that helped. I try to do some of that with my students but, at times, they really pull me to being quite directive. And, that’s a conundrum. So, I think for students transitioning from being practitioners or in industry into academia, just that messiness and grappling with it and realising it will go forward and backwards. They’ll say they’re up for all of that at the outset. But, then, they try and structure it and systematise it and get rid of all of that as they’re going along.
9. Combining teaching and research
In any academic discipline you have the freedom largely to manage your own time and your own tasks. The only fixed things you have to do are teaching, but again you have a lot of flexibility in the context of the syllabus and in how you approach the teaching so it’s high quality, and having the freedom to research what you want to research, so long as you can demonstrate it makes a contribution to advancing knowledge. That’s a lot more self-determination than people have in most careers. I think some people struggle with that because there aren’t so many short-term fixed tasks and some people work much better if they have a series of short-term targets. So I’ve seen some people coming into the academic world actually struggling with that particular aspect because the feedback that you get is much less frequent and each piece of work becomes much more significant in terms of are you progressing well with your career. So that’s a big challenge for a lot of people moving over from the commercial environment to get used to.
I feel very fortunate that I’ve got a role where I can incorporate all these different things that I’ve built up through my different strengths and it all kind of comes under one role. And it all comes down to the job craft you need. There’s a piece around job crafting that you can do quite easily. As an academic you kind of follow your interest, don’t you, whereas you can’t do that in the corporate world. So I very much live life not setting goals and achieving them but pointing in the right direction, picking up things that are interesting
When I started I knew people that worked in universities already and one of the tips they gave me was if you really think they’re wasting your time and you don’t want to do something, just refuse to do it because they can’t actually cope with no. So I’d probably tell people to be a little bit, not aggressive or uncooperative, but certainly to be quite assertive in managing their relationships. You get a lot of freedom working in a university and it’s certainly closer to running my own business than any other employed job I’ve had in terms of the amount of freedom you get. And I think some of the skill-set that you need to run your own business overlaps with the skill-set you need to have a rewarding university career.
If people can do something that they're interested in then I would encourage them to do it. And I would also encourage people who are new to academia not to ask permission, just to do it. I don't really think the people I would have asked would have been able to give me the best advice, because I don't think they would have understood [my context]. Other than what modules you're allocated to, there's not really much that you're told to do at university. I mean I always find it odd that a lot of my colleagues will just outright say no to something. Someone will say, ‘would you mind doing this module next year?’ And they will just turn around and say, ‘yes, I do mind’, and ‘no, I won't do it’. And that's an acceptable answer, which I find completely baffling. That might not help your career I guess. But in that context, I think people should just feel like that they can get on and do things.
I think it definitely has occurred to me to maintain a more open way of thinking about the world, or learning. It has influenced the sort of things I look at and read around educational research. It influences, somewhat, my engagement with students. It has influenced my teaching practice to a certain extent, although I suspect we all have some innate ways of going about teaching that stick with us regardless.