On generosity in academia

gen·er·os·i·ty

(jĕn′ə-rŏs′ĭ-tē)

n.pl.gen·er·os·i·ties

  1. Liberality in giving or willingness to give,
  2. Kindness or magnanimity,
  3. Amplitude; abundance,
  4. A generous act.

Ref: The Free Dictionary 

Last week I attended Bren Neale’s retirement conference (which I discuss here) and it has got me musing about generosity in academic life. The majority of presenters at the event spoke extremely warmly about Bren and all thanked her for her generosity. As an Early Career Academic, the generosity of other colleagues has been extremely important. Contemporary academia is increasingly precarious (Ivancheva, 2005) as a result of structural changes to universities as institutions, resulting from economic recession, the rise of neo-liberalism and austerity.  These processes have been accompanied by, and arguably legitimised by, extensive budget cuts, government intrusion in academic research and funding and increased precariousness of academic labour (Athelstan and Deller, 2012). The typical, individualised, male career trajectory upon which academia has traditionally been constructed, described by Bagilhole and White (2012, p. 9) as moving from ‘undergraduate, PhD, perhaps a postdoc, lectureship, senior lectureship and so on’, has remained out of my reach.

hands

Despite this, it is impossible to attribute my progression to an early career fellowship to a fully individualised trajectory. I am here because of the incredible generosity of some colleagues. There are many ways we can be generous as academics. We can share our knowledge and resources (such as through publications and presentations); we can be generous with our limited time through peer reviewing papers, supporting the work of others and teaching; we can adopt an open access ethos, sharing our knowledge online with one another and with diverse audiences and, as infrastructure develops, we can also share our research data through archiving. These are just some examples.

There are two specific acts of generosity that I think have particularly helped me progress in my career to date and that have also inspired me; one was the opportunity to become Managing Editor of site PhD2Published, whose very existence is premised on an open access ethos. The other is the ongoing support I have had in accessing and analysing existing qualitative data from the Timescapes archive, which has aided me in developing my research project on men’s care responsibilities in low-income localities.

PhD2Published is a website that offers academic publishing advice to early-career academics. As such it is a valuable public resource on academic publishing and a career development tool for those who actively engage with the site either through contributing blog posts or becoming a Managing Editor. The founder Charlotte Frost, established the site to work through her own journey to getting her academic book published but on achieving this goal she decided to hand over the reins to someone else so that they could repeat her results. I became a Managing Editor to PhD2Published in 2012 when I was seeking advice and guidance on how to get my PhD published via journal articles. Through the site I have published journal articles, developed my own blog, helped to start and run the ever popular #acwri Twitter feed and written for The Guardian, all achievements made possible because of Charlotte’s generosity and commitment to an open access approach.

In my current role as Early Career Fellow at Leeds, my colleagues have also been incredibly generous and I couldn’t do the work I am doing without them. As previous posts outline, I am currently analyzing data that is not own, in order to develop my research. At the moment, I am analyzing two datasets from the Timescapes archive, which is an excellent example of infrastructure that has recently been developed and represents academic generosity. The archive was of course developed to extend the methodological affordances of QL research and plays an important role in advancing theoretical and methodological agendas. However, it has also challenged social researchers to think through the ethics and moral imperatives of data sharing and as such, encourages researchers of all orientations to consider their duties to others, or to the stakeholders of qualitative datasets (see Neale, 2013). Such an approach relies on primary researchers to ‘let go’ of data that they may be very attached to and requires their time in the process of data sharing.

I have written this blog, not to suck up to colleagues but to celebrate a culture of generosity in academia, in a context where there is increasing critique about the competitive and individualised nature of academic life (and rightly so in many cases). The examples I mention here are (hopefully) not unusual but I also don’t think that they are celebrated enough or explicitly acknowledged as examples of good practice.

References

Athelstan, A. and Deller, R. (2012) Editorial: Theorising Futures, Graduate Journal of Social Science, 9 (2): 11-18.

Bagihole, B. and White, K. (2013) Gender and Generation in academia, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Neale, B. (2013) Adding Time to the Mix: Stakeholder ethics in qualitative longitudinal research, Methodological Innovations Online, 8 (2): 6-20.

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One thought on “On generosity in academia

  1. Interesting post Anna. The concept of generosity in relation to academia is often for me actualized through participants in research. That people willingly give up their time to support the cause of research or evaluations remains a wondrous gift of generosity- without participants, social science research would be extremely difficult and as a qualitative researcher the kindness of participants never fails to remind me of the importance of generosity and what it can do and mean.

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