Interrogating Existing Road Maps, Article Writing Example


Early career educational researchers experience many and often competing priorities and pressures in identifying possible topics and supervisors. They must understand and participate in existing research terrains but it is crucial to both themselves and the field that they also help to explore and map new territories. Yet it is often difficult for them to acquire the knowledge and power needed to fuel and frame these explorations and mappings, and doing so depends more often on serendipity and individual resilience than on systematic support or strategic visioning.

This chapter pursues these problems and possibilities for early career researchers by means of a conceptually and methodologically framed dialogue between the authors, one a developing researcher with clear aspirations for educational research and the other a more experienced academic with a growing interest in researchers’ work and identities. The dialogue focuses on the coordinates and consequences of some currently privileged road maps in educational research as well as on some potential sites of imagining and drawing new cartographies.

The authors contend that these new maps and pathways must enable educational researchers to conduct research that matters. Thus, the key requirements of these navigational tools are that the resulting scholarship is engaged, reciprocal, relevant and responsive. Only then can troubling terrains become transformative sites of powerful and productive educational research.


Early career researchers in contemporary universities (Ackers & Gill, 2005; Åkerlind, 2005; Bazeley, 2003) who seek new pathways often find themselves confronted, not with insufficient road maps but with too many. While they might bring with them successful prior careers, accompanied by highly developed knowledge bases and skills sets, they are apt to find that universities are sites of specialised terminology and of differently valued competencies, with research outcomes privileged rhetorically yet with obstacles increasingly placed in the way of attaining such outcomes. In this complex and confusing context, beginning researchers sometimes receive well-meaning but contradictory advice about the specific journeys that they should embark on in order to attain success and fulfilment in their new workplaces.

Many early career researchers approach the new focus on research with a combination of trepidation and aspiration. The former derives from both the value and the mystery commonly attributed to completing doctorates, writing refereed journal articles and gaining competitive research funding. The latter reflects many researchers’ desire that the research that they conduct should ‘make a difference’ by having a positive impact on research participants and/or by leading to improvements in policy and practice.

This commitment to enacting research that matters encapsulates several of the dilemmas confronting beginning researchers. From one perspective, perhaps it reflects an enthusiastic naiveté that can too easily be reduced to resigned cynicism. Any knowledge produced by universities can be anything other than self-referential and detached from everyday lives. From a different perspective, it reinforces the proposition that those with the greatest conviction about the relevance and utility of research are those who are least knowledgeable and powerful in this specific context. From yet another perspective, this proposition highlights the urgent importance of early career researchers drawing new road maps and following new pathways if university research – theirs and others’ – is indeed to matter.

This chapter explores these themes by means of a constructed dialogue between the authors. One author is a beginning researcher determined to develop a research profile that contributes directly and demonstrably to improved educational outcomes, thereby benefiting participants and other stakeholders. The other author is a more experienced researcher who is increasingly bemused, even bewildered, by the increasing attempts by government and university management to regulate and control academic work, including research, and who sees the energy and optimism of early career researchers as the best potential antidote to this bureaucratisation and surveillance.

The chapter consists of four sections:

  • Framing the dialogue (selected literature that helps to conceptualise the issues raised in the dialogue)
  • Presenting the dialogue
  • Analysing the dialogue (through selected lenses derived from the selected literature)
  • Implications for early career and other researchers.

The chapter is animated by the argument that university educational researchers, regardless of level of experience, discipline and paradigm, need to develop criteria for evaluating competing discourses about research as a means of facilitating their navigation around currently valued road maps and of developing their own maps for new ways of approaching and conducting research. In particular, these existing and new road maps must contain signposts and other markers that expedite research that is engaged, reciprocal, relevant and responsive – however researchers and other participants understand those attributes. Only then can the troubling terrains of educational research become enduring sites of productivity and transformation.

Framing the Dialogue 

The work and identities of early career researchers exhibit several of the features of a troubling terrain. Scientific research, for instance, is recognized as the site of continuing exclusion of women (O’Rand, 2004) and the setting for a number of ethically questionable practices (Martinson, Anderson & de Vries, 2005) – both phenomena with clear implications for early career researchers in those disciplines. This situation alerts us to the socio-cultural situatedness of early career researchers. This includes the value of exploring alternative conceptualisations of their work and identities, such as the boundaryless career (Arthur & Rousseau, 2001; Eby, Butts & Lockwood, 2003). The situation highlights the fluidity and mobility of at least some contemporary work environments, and the social capital theory of career success (Seibert, Kraimer & Liden, 2001). In addition, it emphasizes the importance of early career researchers being skilled and supported in accessing professional networks and creating new ones. This suggests that, while the form taken by career settings and trajectories might be diverse, and while new concepts are being developed to theorise early career researchers’ work and identities, the structural and systemic pressures and impediments framing and constraining that work and those identities are remarkably resilient and resistant to change – a troubling terrain indeed.

More specifically, the generally limited literature on early career researchers, whether in education or in other disciplines, nevertheless exhibits a reasonably wide diversity of approach and conceptualisation. For example, Gunasekara (2007) identified the early career researcher’s roles as including novice researcher, academic insider and career changer. Devos (2004) drew on Foucauldian notions of governmentality and governable subjects to explain the obstacles and possibilities in professional development opportunities for academic women, including early career researchers. Laudel and Gläser (2008) theorised early career research as “containing a status passage from the apprentice to the colleague state” (p. 387) of the researchers’ careers and moreover contended that the current marketisation of universities has postponed the real independence of such researchers to a later stage in their careers than that of previous researchers. Similarly Ackers and Gill (2005) located concerns about the long-term viability of English universities in being able to attract and retain effective researchers in the broader context of demographic factors and government and institutional policies that both hinder and facilitate that viability (see also Lipsett, 2006, 2007; Wicks, 2007).

Within that broader context, several strategies have been elicited as being more likely to render the terrain of early career research less troubling and more productive and potentially transformative. Tynan and Garbett (2007), themselves early career researchers, emphasised the value of collaborative research in empowering early career researchers, and research skills especially on women. Likewise, Åkerlind (2005) posited the option of compulsory career counselling prior to doctoral candidates being admitted. Studies such as that by Bruce, Pham and Stoodley (2004) that explicate research community members’ otherwise implicit and hidden conceptions of what constitutes significant research might also be useful in suggesting possible road maps and navigational tools for early career researchers. More practically, assistance can be given  in regard to the drafting of abstracts, to early career researchers for journal articles and book chapters (Kamler & Thomson, 2004).

This necessarily selective review of the literature pertaining to the work and identities of early career researchers has framed the dialogue that follows in three crucial respects. Firstly, it is clear that the terrain that early career researchers traverse is troubled and troubling because of its being contested, politicised and uncertain. Secondly, if it is necessary for the early career researchers to have access to potentially empowering and productive pathways, they need to be able to interrogate the existing road maps that depict that terrain and to create new ones. Thirdly, it is important to understand the utility and impact of existing and new road maps in relation to the theoretical filters that help to make sense of sometimes-hostile environments. For all these reasons, the dialogue presented and analysed in this chapter is one strategy that might prove effective in understanding the multiple influences on and understandings of educational research that matters – presumably a pre-requisite to engaging in such research.

Presenting the Dialogue 

The textual device of a dialogue between or among the authors of a text is a useful strategy for articulating and analysing issues that are subject to debate and disputation (see for example AUTHORS, 2005; Bartlett, Bigum & Rowan, 1997; Rowan & Bigum, 1997). In this chapter, we think of our dialogue as constructed rather than naturalistic, in the sense that in engaging in it we had our minds as much on writing the chapter as on a freely flowing exchange of ideas – the intended audience of our separate and shared utterances was as much the readers of this book as each other. Acknowledging that point in our view does not diminish the importance of each other’s perspective to the other author; indeed, we have found the writing of the chapter instructive in helping to clarify and refine our own thinking in order to communicate it effectively to our co-author. It is noteworthy that the acknowledgment enhances the dialogic relationships” (Bakhtin, 1984, p. 40).  In this case, the texts of the chapter, including the chapter, are instantiated (an enhancement that also accords with our view of what makes research matter).

The process leading to this presentation of the dialogue was that the authors had a couple of preliminary conversations about writing the chapter and decided that conducting and recording a focused conversation could be an effective way of highlighting issues that warranted deeper analysis. Each author prepared a list of tentative discussion points, but in practice, the taperecorded conversation on 12 May 2007 was freely flowing and relied on responses to and elaborations of points made rather than on referring to predetermined discussion starters. While the authors were in broad sympathy with each other, inevitably specific points of potential difference, if not dissension, emerged as each author drew on a different set of experiential and theoretical knowledge. We see this difference as healthy and as vital to identifying multiple potential pathways in educational research and to drawing and reading, the road maps needed to traverse them (Cochran-Smith et al, 2012).

What is presented in the remainder of this section is not a verbatim transcript of the taperecorded conversation. Instead, it is a thematically clustered (Rowan, 2001) and purposive representation of selected strings of dialogue designed to provide an impetus for the analysis that follows in the next section. Far from being an unethical misrepresentation of our meaning at the time of the discussion, this approach signifies the ongoing and multiple meanings that individually and collectively we bring to bear on this crucial issue in contemporary educational research.

For many years, multiple-author publications have been utilized in as the primary unit of measuring collaboration in search. The increase in instance of multiple-authored research work has prompted some researches to suggest that such papers may be used for proxy purposes in measuring the collaborative effort among researchers. To measure collaboration, descriptions of all the relationships involved in the process will only facilitate it. Other researchers have suggested the need to assume a realistic perspective in when assessing collaboration for a number of reasons (Gordon, 1980). The first is that collaboration can not ne measured by basic techniques of observation questionnaires, interviews because the intricate nature of human relationships that facilitate collaboration. The other reason is that collaborations involve people of different qualifications and may incorporate early researchers who may not be of the same level with established researchers. There is also the potential for changes in the nature and degree of collaboration over time. There are other aspects of collaborations that can be quantified and others that cannot be quantified (Bennion & Locke, 2010). This is highlighted by the example in which a research may make a brilliant suggestion that may alter the course of the research, which is more valuable than weeks of activity in researching in the laboratory or in the field. This can lead to contributions made by early researchers to be used in research, but they cannot be acknowledged for the contribution.

Despite evidence of increases in collaboration, it has varied widely according to subject areas. It is also a fact that not all individuals named on a paper participated in the production of the work and should be accorded equal recognition like others who took responsibility for the work (Gordon, 1980). This becomes even more pervasive when early researchers are involved because others who may take credit for work they did not put enough input to warrant such credits may exploit them. Various studies have concluded that some publication list authors for social reasons only. Some of the titles given to early researchers such as novice researcher and academic insider demean their contributions during research.

Immediately after completion of a PhD degree, the next few years are critical for the development of a successful research career. This is the point where these entrants to the research field are referred to as early researchers. This is the phase where critical research skills are honed, and if these early researchers are not given a suitable research environment to develop research skills, they may not be able to conduct research that matter in the end (Barrett et al, 2011). Critical skills such as proposal writing and grant application are developed during this period, and research engage in their initial publications, which in turn lays the foundation for future research. This need permeates research in all countries with the increasing recognition to give necessary support to this group of researchers. Early researchers in countries located in developing parts of the world face greater constraints due to limited support from academic institutions and external donors.

The main challenge facing early researchers is the lack of adequate support to develop the individual, which is then translated to strengthening the research prowess of an institution. In most cases, it is assumed that by building the individual researcher leads to building the institutions without consideration that the absences of policies and mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between the institution and the individual cannot lead to development of early researchers. Building important peer relationships across institutions is necessary in lifting challenges facing early researchers (Auriol, 2011). In instances where scholarships are available, established researchers are usually considered at the expense of the former group, which highlights the need to develop institutional frameworks that develop the careers of early researchers. In helping early researchers reach their potential, institutions must strengthen their departments and faculties to provide the necessary base for early researchers. This is only possible of individual support to early researchers is embedded within the research activities and capacity building initiatives that works towards the realization of the academic core of an institution.

These efforts aimed at providing the requisite support to early research is not  confined to the institution only, but permeates the context of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary programs for example inter-generational or inter-institutional research initiatives. Considering that early researchers may be ignored or exploited in inter-institutional research initiatives, institutions must focus on developing research programs at the department level to cater fro the needs of early researchers. The realization of this initiative is based on proper selection of postdoctoral students for support, and this will be based on the papers they have published and research conducted.

Early researchers are also faced the lack of ability to build in their doctoral training irrespective of the institution that granted it. Early researcher face challenges when integrating with the research departments after their training because such institutions lack mechanism of providing the necessary support for early researchers and in most cases they are left to their own means. The lack of access to quality resources and facilities complicates the research work of early researchers especially in developing countries.

Challenges facing early researchers are also organizational based because many instituting lack the framework to provide support to researchers after their upgrade from students. Due to the challenges occasioned by minimal resources, institutions have not developed sufficient programs to integrate early researchers into their departments (Auriol, 2011). In the process, research work has become de-institutionalized or privatized, which shuts away early researchers who need the institutional framework to develop their research skills. Institutions may have different levels of funding for research and this is founded on an institution’s attitude towards the subject. The realization of successful research by early researchers requires enough funding for the actual research work, publishing and supervision.

Individualization of research is another challenge that faces early researchers.  This has also contributed to pushing away academicians postdoctoral mentoring and supervisions. Collaborations in research benefit only senior researchers who have established themselves in the field. After completion of the doctoral degrees, many early researchers are expected by their institutions to assume administrative or teaching positions, which in turn draws them way from research.  The lack of a culture is departments that supports research is a key impediment to the development early researchers because mentorship is vital for the researcher’s account. The individualization of research is the contributing factor to senior researchers viewing early researchers as a threat to their positions instead of integrating them into research as resources. Early researchers face hostility and the possibility of being ignored by their senior colleagues if they try to introduce novel ways of thinking or concepts of researchers simply because their seniors are keeping them in check.

Analysing the Dialogue 

I do remember that Liesa that’s really important and part of what we’re talking about of course is the politicized character of educational research and of our workplace generally and also as a consequence of that I guess, the vulnerability of particular groups such as the early career researchers and the research participants.

Research that matters, that makes a contribution… makes a difference and so on, is transformative, empowering whatever words we want to use. On the one hand the kind of managerialist environment in we work in, where that takes too long, they want quick runs on the board, they want quick fixes.

the sharing of ideas is almost..leaves one open to be…pillaged in a way (?) and because of the nature of some of us as individuals, who we are, we naturally are open people we naturally are very trusting, and the naivety that comes with being an early career researcher probably leaves you being open to being taken advantage of on that journey. But the trust that needs to be there should probably be negotiated formally…do you think?

What I would do differently …. Would be to make a strong alliance with a strong mentor, find ways of doing other types of research that are not funding dependent; to invest time in design processes  – make sure they are appropriate – make sure you always acknowledge the collaborations of others – make sure the strong researchers and collaborators are around you who will have some longevity to offer support. In terms of the content I don’t really know

So is that about knowing who you are yourself and certain aspects of your job and knowing your capabilities, knowing the way you work best then finding the right one to pick perhaps

and if you know that you can produce a reasonable journal article within a limited period of time by pushing yourself, that’s something that I think you probably should keep doing because that is rewarded under this system

If you have five authors or four authors and you’re the last named there’s a presumption that you have done the least amount of work which is not always the case.

To me, the interesting point is that even though on a promotional scale we value teamwork and collaboration, due acknowledgement etc that doesn’t seem to happen in the real world does it because in these papers if you are not first author then you’ve done nothing

Yes that’s very true and also I have found that as I said earlier, it would be very rare that in a team, every single spoke would take an equal turn. That’s not necessarily a problem if you know that so-and-so does other things that contribute

I still think – I don’t think you can do research that matters if you don’t feel that you kept your integrity

; what signs would you have on the tunnel

L: I think it would be to be cautious about collaboration and – being open to warnings about that … and being highly ethical but I think if you are naturally an ethical person that you know what’s right and to perhaps act in ways which are consistent with who you are, what matters to you and what matters to someone else somewhere down the track

: Yes Well it could be, that’s right and similarly I’m not applying for conference funding  any more because I don’t want to be at people’s beck and call in terms of presenting papers – which I do at the conference anyway, but that’s just a personal choice – it’s part of the same thing – trying to evade as much as possible this ? culture and to get on with the things we do

Implications for Early Career and Other Researchers 

From the dialogue above, it is clear that conducting research that matters is a challenging experience for early career researcher considering the political nature of educational research. Most education research- initiatives are founded on political issues especially when it comes to changing a policy of determining its effectiveness. It is clear that research that matters is one that contributes, transformative and empowering, but if research is not conducted in an appropriate environment and all protocols followed, it cannot be research that matters (Rickinson et al, 2011). In a research environment where research initiatives take a long period, as is the case with the current managerial context, it is complicated to carry out research that matters because research boards always require quick fixes.

Since collaborative research requires the sharing of ideas among the collaborators, early career researchers may appear to be trusting, and the case they may be pillaged in various ways by their senior colleagues. Since they are not conversant with the research environment, they may be overworked and their contributions ignored (Hanley, 2010). Furthermore, this group of researchers has limited voice in articulating their concerns for fear of recrimination by their seniors. Although a research environment is required to be open, the political nature of some research topics may draw the attention of senior researchers and their opinions of early career researchers may be muffled. Lacking the necessary skills to manoeuvre the research environment may expose early career researchers to exploitation.

This presents a critical challenge to early researchers because they must develop trust with other established researchers and at the same time ensure that they are not exploited in any manner. This is especially rampant in research that is reliant of funding from institutions or grants. Senior researchers will tend to monopolize these funds and regulate how it is used to the disadvantage of early career researchers (McLain, 2002).

In managing trust with collaborators, early researchers are disadvantaged because they are at a point where they need support in order to establish themselves in their field; therefore, they tend to be over trusting to the point where they may be exploited again. There is potential to make an alliance with a strong mentor in order to avoid these pitfalls of early research, but the problem with such a solution is that in research hat is dependent on external or institutional funding, even strong mentors have limited influence in choosing groups that will collaborate in doing a specific topic. Collaborating in research that is funding dependent may not be avoidable in some cases; therefore, early researcher may be forced to look for other ways of managing challenges they face in this early phase of the research work.

Investing time in designing the research process may be a viable option of avoiding early research challenges, but in most instances early researchers are rarely involved in designing researcher processes and f they do they are usually marginalized in key decision making processes.  Collaboration with other is another method adopted by early researchers, which is effective especially if one aligns themselves with strong collaborators who exhibit some sense of longevity because they will be available to offer their support when challenges crop up (Nuyens, 2005).

Collaboration may have its own challenges in research because they have different variations. Collaboration may mean a partnership between two faculty members of a learning institution to interfaculty or interagency collaboration in non-academic setups. It may also refer to the sharing of resources such as equipment, databases, research data and financial resources. Different collaborators have diverse expectations as to the bas of the research relationship. This incorporates the rights and responsibilities of each party. In some instances, the term collaboration may imply different meanings to the collaborators and third parties who may be directly or indirectly involved in research. Failure to identify these and resolve these differences before the commencement of the research may become contentious issues as the research progresses (Thomas & Nedeva, 2012). Without clear communication, these differences can impede research especially when interpretations of different collaborators differ on matters such as access to and utilization of data outcomes and the ownership of intellectual property. There is no group that can be adversely affected by such differences as early researchers. One of the best approaches of avoiding such differences during collaboration is to enquire about the conditions and expectation of the collaboration, but this may be a challenge to early researchers because they have limited experience on the research environment dynamics.

Although senior researchers may avoid these shortcomings of collaboration, early researchers may be victims be victims of exploitation in the management of the intellectual property and use of study findings. Knowing their area of expertise and the aspects of their job may not be sufficient is avoiding these challenges. Some early researchers may have sufficient knowledge and hard work to produce a reasonable journal within a short period, but they may be impeded by institutional challenges that are beyond their control. This is the case especially if researchers are involved in funded research. Despite these institutional challenges, early researchers can push themselves through hard work because most research systems reward such approaches. The problem with hard work is that it is not rewarded when early researchers are involved in collaborative work. This is the case where five authors are involved in a research work; there is the presumption that the person who is named last made limited contribution to the research work, which is not true in any circumstances, but the academic system tend to follow this presumption. This will in turn disadvantage earl researchers because senior researchers will always give their names priority when listing the authors.

Collaborative research projects are founded on teamwork and due acknowledgement, but in reality people don’t practice it because different personalities involved in collaborative work have different levels of integrity. In other cases, senior researchers may abuse the naivety of early researchers to achieve their selfish ambition such as failing to adhere to institutional regulations by involving them in actions that they will not take responsibility for. This impact negatively in conducting research that matters because it will be hard to do so if researchers feel that their integrity has been compromised (Harle & Kirkland, 2009).

Early researchers may be faced with conflicts with other researchers if they appear as ethical and cannot be easily influenced. They may be sidelined or given limited financing. This becomes even worst when early researchers are involved in interfaculty or inter-institutional collaborations. This may work, but is mat at the same time discourage early researchers from applying for conference funding in order to avoid being misused by institutions in presenting papers. The problem with failing to present institution papers is tat early researchers may get themselves into conflict with their affiliate institutions and loose the chance to engage with other researchers in such forums, which is a critical element of research work.

There are serious implications if early researchers are not supported to realize their potential. One immediate implication is that institution swill lack professional researchers to replace retiring or aging researchers (Stehlik, 2011). Secondly, early researchers may be drawn to other careers, which will impede the research potential of the institution and the country as a whole because research is a vital foundation for development. Furthermore, institutions will fail to develop the initiatives or mechanisms of supporting early researchers because they will lack the experience of doing so. If institutions fail to provide the mentorship and supervision necessary in the initial years of early research, it will developing a backward culture that will adversely affect its competitiveness as it will not be attractive to post doctoral students (Frenken et al, 2010). Lastly, research institutions will not benefit from novel idea of thinking and doing things that early researchers may have.


Early career researchers in contemporary universities who seek new pathways often find themselves confronted, not with insufficient road maps but with too many. In this complex and confusing context, beginning researchers sometimes receive well-meaning but contradictory advice about the specific journeys that they should embark on in order to attain success and fulfilment in their new workplaces. This commitment to enacting research that matters encapsulates several of the dilemmas confronting beginning researchers. From one perspective, perhaps it reflects an enthusiastic naiveté that can too easily be reduced to cynicism and doubt that any knowledge produced by universities can be anything other than self-referential and detached from everyday lives (Wingrove, 2012). It is important that that university educational researchers, regardless of level of experience, discipline and paradigm, need to develop criteria for evaluating competing discourses about research as a means of facilitating their navigation around currently valued road maps and of developing their own maps for new ways of approaching and conducting research.

Immediately after completion of a PhD degree, the next few years are crucial to nurture the successful research career. This is the point where these entrants to the research field are referred to as early researchers. This is the phase where critical research skills are honed, and if these early researchers are not given a suitable research environment to develop research skills, they may not be able to conduct research that matter in the end. From the analysis of the dialogue, it is clear that early researchers face significant challenges in conducting research. The challenges may be resource-based, but significant challenges are caused by culture and institutional attitudes. In order to realize the potential of early researchers, institutions must develop initiates and programs to integrate them into their departments and faculties, and provide mentorship and supervisory services.


The authors benefited from the helpful feedback about earlier versions of this chapter by participants in writing workshops on 4 December 2007 and 18 March 2008 conducted by the University of Southern Queensland Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher group.


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