Read through the three topics below. Each begins with a summary of key points and then sets out some issues for you to consider as you read through the detailed quotes. The comments from other accountants working in academia below will give you a range of insights which concern how you may be affected.
13. Issues around confidence
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
There’s a self-confidence thing as well in terms of people coming from the profession. They’ve got a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience, so they start to feel a bit silly sometimes when they start looking at research and they’re starting from the beginning. And it can knock your confidence, and you can feel hang on, I’ve got all this experience. And someone who’s maybe a PhD Researcher, who has just come straight through, never left university, is teaching me something that I don’t know. How can I handle this? So I think we need to pitch it at the right level so that people don’t feel patronised, but also so they don’t start to feel it’s something that shouldn’t concern them because they’re too senior. It’s quite a balance to strike with this.
I think it’s hard because you feel like it’s a totally different space. Some of the skills which you have are transferable, but perhaps your colleagues might not recognise that initially. So you have to demonstrate it. And I would encourage people not to be too hard on themselves. All the way along I’ve always been like ‘oh, imposter syndrome’. And ‘oh, this is not really my area; this is not really my aim’. I went to speak at a conference and it was my first proper conference and that was quite a nerve-wracking experience. But I then had to just give myself a talking to and say, ‘look you have done all these things in your career. This is yes, admittedly a different space and you’re learning the ropes in this space, but you have done all these other things in your career. You have stood in front of a room of partners and trained them. So you can stand in front of this room of academics, and if they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s okay to say that.’ So I’ve had to give myself various pep talks over the time, because it is just so unfamiliar. I would not want to scare anyone off, but I think people who are moving into academia have to recognise that it’s a rather strange game at times with rather strange terminology and quite strange politics, and that it’s okay not to know everything immediately. When you talk to professors who say well this happened to me and this happened to me and this happened to me, you think ‘yes, they built that experience over a period of time’. So it’s okay to be learning.
In my academic environment, doing research definitely gave me credibility. I felt I could hold my head up with my peers in the Business School. And that mattered to me quite early on. I didn’t just want to stick in my silo of accounting; I really wanted to have respect from my colleagues in the wider sense. And then in the wider University, and so on. If I hadn’t done research, I wouldn’t have got promoted. I wouldn’t have been able to have credibility to do some of the management roles I’ve done, if I hadn’t had that performance across the different domains of activity. It has given me that confidence, that ability to move and do different things. It also gives you that outlet of meeting different people. Research opens up that external research community which I have always enjoyed. It adds that variety.
Having my EdD certainly gives me more confidence.
At the moment, even though I am going through the process and I hope to be completing my doctorate by the end of next year, I still don’t feel as though I am an academic. I still think I am more of a lecturer. More of a trainer rather than completely being associated with academia. It’s challenging. To me, this is obviously another type of apprenticeship that I am going through. Apprentices get knocked about a bit and that’s where I feel I am at in my journey at the minute. I am mindful that there is a lot of that about in academia. Or certainly, that’s what I’ve experienced. I think when you realise that it’s not just you, it’s happening to everyone, it makes you feel better. It can feel quite isolated and you can blow things out of proportion as well and take things too personally. But it’s just part of the process. That’s just part of the game to come out at the other end.
Becoming involved in research requires a different skill set. I think, more so, it requires persistence. It requires humility because it’s a new skill set or it’s a re-orientation of an existing skill set. So you have to accept that you are in the learner seat, rather than in the master’s seat.
I’ve never felt so unsure of myself and so lacking in confidence as I have in an academic environment. Up until then, I always was very self-assured. I knew that what I was doing was really good. My biggest thing is I should’ve, all those years ago, done a PhD. I do think that makes a huge difference, just having that academic qualification. If you don’t have it, if you go to a meeting and everyone’s listed, I’m often the only person without the doctor in front of my name, it’s Mrs.
I probably do have an underlying lack of confidence that I don’t really see how anyone would be interested in what I’m researching and I feel like most of the stuff I’m doing is to inform my own practice, as a lecturer or course writer.
I think I’ve probably got a lot more confident about it over the years. Certainly the first thing that I really worked on in terms of research was the report I did for an external funder. And when that was done and sent off to them and published, the overwhelming emotion I had was relief. It was 'oh, it was good enough for them, they’ve published it'. Whereas now I’d be inclined to be a bit more assertive. To stick a post up on LinkedIn saying ‘hey, look I’ve got this research published, isn’t this great?’ And maybe that extra confidence to direct people towards it as opposed to just a sense of relief that it was good enough for them and not wanting anyone to look too closely at it in case they pick holes in it. I think if I was trying to give advice to my younger self, one of the things that I would say is try to avoid being intimidated or overawed by the research. Certainly when I first started reading academic journals and going to conferences, if I didn’t understand the paper or the conference presentation, I’d assume it was because I was thick. Whereas now I realise that actually, in most cases, it’s because it’s not written very well. So the other advice that I’d give to my younger self and to any new academic starting out is not to be overawed by that sort of thing and to have some confidence in your own skills in that yes, you probably haven’t got the experience of writing journal articles but you’ve probably got experience of writing reports for clients and the skill-set is not really that much different if you see the journal as a client and the brief as the submission instructions that the journal publishes on its website.
14. What might be different?
The quotes which follow mention that:
I’ve surprised myself. I think the main thing I’ve learnt about myself is the longer-term kind of thinking. Just taking it a bit slower. In the corporate world I was really at the front of learning. I loved it and I liked being out on site and meeting people and wrapping the report and moving to the next thing. But the academic world and the bit of research I’ve done has made me step back and think about things a bit more long-term. And kind of slow down, but because of that my work has increased in quality quite a lot. So slow down my pace. Having children does make you evaluate ‘Do I want to be spending this much time at work. Is work that important in terms of corporate work?’ But now I love my work so much and I’ve never felt I’m divided between work and children because I relish the time I spend at work and the space that I get to think about things. Work has become extremely enjoyable and a very important part of me.
I was very used to filling time sheets in every six minutes. And needing to churn things out pretty quickly sometimes, quicker than maybe I would’ve liked. I think having been involved in research has allowed me to see that having patience and sometimes taking a pause and coming back to something can result in more insight than if you’d done it in a rush. I think I’ve got out of that mind-set of ‘I must do this immediately’. Sometimes it’s been quite beneficial. We’ve been analysing interview findings on my project recently and had a very intense period of discussing them and going through them. And then we deliberately left it for about a fortnight and when we came back to it we had fresh eyes on it. And within a couple of hours when we came back to it, we’d started to develop a model but when we had stopped we couldn’t see the wood for the trees. That process of just stepping away from it and going back to it later had very much helped us to be clearer about what we were trying to do, for the slow burn I guess. And that’s been instructive. Having worked in a very fast-paced environment in the big world, the idea of a slow burn has been interesting and I think I’ve learnt a lot from that.
I’m quite an open-minded person, but my hope is that I will be perhaps even more open-minded, if you like. I’ve always tried to look at all the different sides of a situation, but research gives you a discipline in doing that. It’s almost a formalised requirement to do that. And I hope that that will help me with the way that I think and become a habit of thinking. So that I’m not just leaping in with this is what we need to do or this is what must have happened, and making assumptions. I try not to do that anyway, but I hope that it will help me to have a broader mind. And also to not re-invent the wheel all the time, to have more knowledge of what’s gone before.
Academia provides a role that you can do part-time without being diminished in terms of the opportunities, or how you are viewed by your colleagues. Whereas in the corporate world, well, certainly when I left, part-time was viewed as part-time rather than a normal mode of working. Whereas in academia, it’s very normal. Lots of people, both male and female, work part-time for a whole variety of reasons. I suppose when you contrast it to the corporate world the major differences are the drivers and motivations. And how decisions are made. And performance metrics as well are very different. So, the culture is different. I think as you go through the journey, and a PhD is a good example of a learning journey, you think, ‘oh, if only I had done that straight away rather than taking quite a long time to get there.’ But I think that’s part of maturing and learning and reflecting. And, probably, you have to do it.
Every time I speak to another academic they go,’ have you thought of this?’ And that’s quite difficult. Yes, take on board what everybody is saying, but this is your research. So, if you haven’t thought of a particular area, and you don’t think it’s relevant, have the courage to say, ‘no, I am not doing that’. And justify why you are not doing that for this piece of work. Again I think I wanted initially to be all things to all men and you just can’t do that within the confines of a thesis. If you do, it’s going to be too broad and it’s not going to be relevant. It took me a while to click that that’s what you should be doing. You need to have the confidence to say, ‘thanks for that, but no. And this is why I am not including it.’ And for a long time, I didn’t. It is part of the journey that you do have to explore those areas because it might well be the one that completely fits with what you are doing. But everybody has a different view of how they would have approached your work. And they are all coming at it with a different lens. I think you’ve just got to be quite focused as to what your lens is.
And what I think is an issue is the skill set for research. A lot of what makes a great researcher, is that sort of ‘introvert-ness’. And that's not necessarily the thing that correlates with what makes a great teacher, which is not about being a gigantic extrovert, but sometimes those characteristics, or those traits help, because they take the pressure off the content.
I think research forces you to be more… I don't want to say introspective, but it obviously forces you into really deep thinking. To do research to me is hard work in the sense that you toil through a vast amount of data. Either be it papers, or interviews, or other data that you receive and so actually, from an intellectual point of view, it's hard work. That is why it forces me to think deep, it forces me to actually use my mind, or to use my brain and that's what I enjoy. So there's the challenge in that and that ability, even if it's only for yourself, to generate new knowledge, something that you didn't know before.
15. The perceptions of others
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
Being a Professor adds a credibility and it gives you a standing in internal and external environments. There’s no getting away from it. People give you a degree of respect. They don’t expect you to necessarily know the things that they’re going to be on about. And they do expect that, maybe, you’ll be very sort of ‘academicky’. But it definitely has allowed me to have involvement in external things. Particularly being a Professor and being a woman. I suspect I could do a lot of external activities because of those two things being combined because there’s such a need in so many bodies and on so many committees, for increased female representation. If you can tick two boxes for them, it’s helpful.
People shouldn’t automatically give you respect just because you’ve got the title of Professor. I think it’s nice if people say because you’ve got a PhD you must have certain attributes and perhaps those are undervalued in this country. I suspect that if people realise that you’re talking from a position of having analysed things and having thought things through you begin to earn their trust and respect. I think that’s very similar to the ACA. I think if people have experienced working with chartered accountants and they recognise the vast majority of chartered accountants are good and trustworthy people, I think being a chartered accountant begins to earn you that trust. But you then have to demonstrate you’ve got the skills to back it up.
There's a definite change in perception when people realise you are involved in research. For example, when people start hearing that I went to a conference, you can clearly see some peoples' perceptions do change. Suddenly there is a kindred spirit, or a mutual interest in certain topics. Suddenly everyone knows you and, because you have the same fields of interest, now you're suddenly talking to each other. And there's a new network of people that you're starting to engage with.
I don’t know if it’s changed how I feel about myself. Certainly having stuff published, even research that’s effectively sponsored, getting that published, even getting a joint article published in a one-star journal, I think it does change how people respond to you. And part of this might be my own perception but there is an element of people taking you a little bit more seriously in academia if you’re research active.
I think you have a lot more credibility and your colleagues perceive you quite differently if you have a further qualification. If you’re teaching-intensive, you are definitely a second class citizen, in all ways. No matter how good you are at teaching - and I would hone my teaching based on the evaluations and based on peer reviews to be absolutely outstanding and top of what my university can offer. But that is really, totally irrelevant. People still would see me as, ‘she’s teaching-intensive’, like it’s a really bad thing. Very few of the other researchers have got professional qualifications. They’ve all gone through the academic route and they’ve worked nowhere except for a university. What’s happened, I guess, if I’m being brutally honest about it, is people like myself are quite isolated because the majority of people have been nowhere but academia. You’ve pretty much got two groups; you’ve got teaching-intensive, you’ve got research-active and the two just don’t really connect.
There’s an overall feeling that if you’re not doing research you’re not really an academic. But personally I’ve never felt that from my colleagues.
There is a lot of academic snobbery about research. And there is still an attitude that teaching is very much a second order skill next to research.
I do get a sense that the Academic Researchers overlook the Teaching Fellows. But, to tell you the truth, I am not that worried about how the Academic Researchers feel about me. I think I’ve worked here for far too long now. It used to worry me. It’s stopped, now.
I think there can be, at worst, a mutual lack of respect between Professionals [coming into academia] and Researchers. And we don’t always help ourselves. In academia, you will find people who aren’t necessarily very good at teaching, but who are promoted because of their research and they are really not bothered about teaching. They might say they’re going to get something done just to get the teaching off the desk so they can focus on their research. And the other way around, people who teach and put a lot of pride in that don’t have respect for the people who research. Meanwhile researchers who have not come from the profession can just see it as a hunting ground for a scandal of stories that they can use for research and don’t understand and respect people in the profession. It’s about trying to get mutual understanding and respect and that is quite difficult. I’m not quite sure how we do that, but there are some barriers to get over there. It’s ironic really because a lot of people that come into academia do it because they respect the idea of higher education and research and research-informed teaching. There isn’t a huge amount of research in the professional accountancy bodies’ syllabi informing the teaching. So people come into Higher Education hoping for a more uplifting experience and, sometimes, they get a little disillusioned, because they don’t find that. They’ve been brought in to do a lot of teaching because they’re good at it, and it’s the same again. It would be good for personal development for those people and retention and motivation and so on and enjoyment to communicate the importance of research and share that mutually.
I do find it quite frustrating sometimes because sometimes it’s like you never did anything before. Well, actually I did, and I did reasonably well in that first career. I did have a range of clients and I did look after a lot of people pastorally and all of that kind of thing. But sometimes I feel like there’s almost a deep distrust of experience that was gained outside Higher Education, and that is difficult. I think there is gradually a bit more acceptance of it. But I appreciate that if it is your first and only career, these people coming in from the outside are quite a strange species potentially. And I’ve talked to people in other institutions and the thing that’s changed for me is that there is recognition that this is actually an issue. When I started there was no recognition that this was even a tension. It was just all unsaid. And I feel that there is more recognition that there’s a potential tension and that it might need to be managed. I think it may be just a sense of threat. I don’t think it’s any particular animosity towards the group who are coming in, but it’s a sense of threat that this is going to be a different university from the one that they are familiar with.