Higher education

The messy business of impact for the social sciences: fear and failure, stealth and seeds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

Failure is an inevitable part of any academic career. This may feel especially true for those researchers working to have an impact on politics and policy, with research work always vulnerable to rejection or disregard. Matthew Flinders explains how such precarity brings into sharp focus the messy business of impact for the social sciences: the great problem of sowing seeds […]

Collaborative research skills should be meaningfully incorporated into undergraduate programmes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

Scientific research has changed, now being largely conducted in collaborative teams. However, undergraduate student training has not necessarily kept pace with these changes. In order to work effectively in collaborative settings, students need to develop not only the technical skills related to their discipline, but also communication and interpersonal skills needed to work in teams. Nora J. Casson reports on […]

In a globalised and networked world, what is the unique value a university can bring? Introducing Open Knowledge Institutions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

Digital ubiquity has disrupted the traditional university model. The internet has shifted the balance of a tension between control and disorder in knowledge production, with many of the opportunities the web brings leading directly to many of the challenges we now need to address. Lucy Montgomery and Cameron Neylon advocate for the idea of universities as Open Knowledge Institutions, which […]

Book Review: How to be a Happy Academic: A Guide to Being Effective in Research, Writing and Teaching by Alexander Clark and Bailey Sousa

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/09/2018 - 8:44pm in

In How to be a Happy Academic: A Guide to Being Effective in Research, Writing and TeachingAlexander Clark and Bailey Sousa aim to support fellow academic workers at all career stages to become more efficient, successful and happier through focusing on fostering good habits over and above talent or skills. Eddy Li welcomes this insider perspective on seeing, doing and – most importantly – taming academic work, even if it leaves open the question of how exactly we measure and define ‘success’. 

How to be a Happy Academic: A Guide to Being Effective in Research, Writing and Teaching. Alexander Clark and Bailey Sousa. SAGE. 2018.

Find this book: amazon-logo

A recent self-reported survey from the UK suggests that academics are at relatively high risk of stress-related anxiety and mental health problems, including depression, sleeping issues and cognitive impairment. One commonly-cited cause of stress concerns the increasing diversity of tasks in the modern academic workplace (pastoral care, administration, entrepreneurial activity, impact work, to name but a few). In addition to other ongoing contextual challenges, such as falling academic standards, corporatisation, lack of collegiality, long working hours and pressure to produce high volumes of quick work, how might one seek to be a happy academic?

Written by Alexander Clark (@DrAlexMClark) and Bailey Sousa (@BaileySousa), both from the University of Alberta, this book sets out to support fellow academic workers – ‘irrespective of career stage, seniority, qualifications, function, or title’ (9) – to be more effective, more successful and happier. To begin with, the authors put forward in the introduction their view on seeing and approaching academic work as extreme knowledge work, in which success depends largely on ‘getting the right things done, then acquiring the knowledge to do the next right thing’ (13). They also argue that doing the right things, whether in research, teaching or engagement, is ‘achieved far more by good habits than talent or skills’ (13).

Image Credit: (Rosmarie Voegtli CC BY 2.0)

Based on this premise, the first section of the book introduces ‘The Success Pyramid’. This consists of four linked strata (‘success indicators’; ‘priorities’; ‘goals’; and ‘tasks’), all of which aim to support readers in selecting the right academic work to do. As extreme knowledge work is so diverse and always value-laden (Chapter Two), what success looks like in academia is highly dependent on personal context and values. The authors therefore urge everyone to set their own success indicators (Chapter Three), and to identify from there their priorities (Chapter Four), as well as goals and tasks (Chapter Five). One key message from ‘The Success Pyramid’ is that effectiveness in academic work involves essentially ‘the disciplined pursuit of what really matters’ (70) vis-à-vis one’s own ‘values, career aspirations, and circumstances’ (61). It is about strategically ‘addressing the smaller number of factors that stand to make the biggest contributions to our success’ (75).

The section that follows discusses in great detail ‘The Core’. This comprises six elements that are fundamental to doing (the right) academic work right: ‘creativity’; human work’; ‘learning’; ‘influence’; ‘writing’; and ‘habits and systems’. As argued by Clark and Sousa, strengthening these ‘underlying deeper skills’ (7) is ‘the most efficient and effective means to foster success in academic work, and to ultimately be happy while doing it’ (100). This may be achieved respectively through, for example, working in creative collaboration (Chapter Six), building relational networks (Chapter Seven), learning from failure (Chapter Eight), fostering rhetorical skills (Chapter Nine), reading widely (Chapter Ten) as well as organising workload and priorities using the Eisenhower Matrix (Chapter Eleven). Over a total of six chapters, the authors clearly convey, among other things, their growth mindset: that abilities around ‘The Core’ are not fixed but can be improved through deliberate efforts and strategies. They motivate readers to consider themselves ‘not as an endlessly progressing work colossus, but as a colossal work of endless progress’ (131).

Finally, the last section of the book brings together ‘The Success Pyramid’ and ‘The Core’. It aims to illustrate how they might be used to support the everyday work of different academic workers, including PhD students and more established scholars. Through three worked examples (‘The Doctoral Milieu’; ‘The Squeezed Middle’; and ‘Stepping Out’), the authors suggest that while those in their early careers are usually learning to work amidst failures and constraints, more established workers tend to face challenges arising from ‘ambiguity around, or sheer misalignment of their success indicators with their work’ (197). In light of this, they reiterate the importance of ‘doing the right things’ (200), as well as developing ‘deeper skills and habits’ (200). They also encourage all academic workers to get together as communities of practices (Chapter Twelve), so as to learn from sharing, discussing and reflecting on their mutual challenges around effectiveness, success and happiness. Doing so forms ‘important and sustaining elements to help avoid assimilation into ineffective work cultures’ (201).

Similar to most self-help books, How to be a Happy Academic offers its target readers a training manual on self-empowerment. In particular, it provides an insider perspective on seeing, doing and – most importantly – taming academic work. Among the highlights of the book is the series of ‘Over to You’ sections, which seeks to bridge theory and practice by inviting readers to critically engage with ‘The Success Pyramid’ and ‘The Core’. For instance, it has guided me to reflect on my own values and success indicators as an early career researcher. It has also helped me to identify some of my main barriers to setting priorities. Nevertheless, one of my questions while reading and reviewing the book, and indeed also raised by the authors themselves, remains: ‘who should define and evaluate success, from what basis should this be done, and with what implications’ (47)?

Eddy Li (@eddykwli) is a doctoral researcher with the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. He researches with teachers in Hong Kong about their inclusive pedagogy. Besides LSE Review of Books, he has also written for the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Blog.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


Research data should be available long-term…but who is going to pay?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

There is now a broad consensus that sharing and preserving data makes research more efficient, reproducible and potentially innovative. As such, most funding bodies now require research data to be stored, preserved, and made available long-term. But who is going to pay for this to happen? Marta Teperek and Alastair Dunning outline how the costs of long-term data preservation are […]

Predatory publishers threaten to consume public research funds and undermine national academic systems – the case of Brazil

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

An unintended consequence of the open access movement, predatory publishers have appeared in many countries, offering authors a quick and easy route to publication in exchange for a fee and usually without any apparent peer review or quality control. Using a large database of publications, Marcelo S. Perlin, Takeyoshi Imasato and Denis Borenstein analyse the extent of this problem throughout […]

Improving instruction on campus: concrete ideas.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/09/2018 - 9:27pm in

A while ago I promoted this event, slightly anxious that no-one would turn up. Contrary to my fears, it was packed, and a huge success. I asked 5 students to describe and motivate a pedagogical practice that they had experienced, and that they think should be more widely shared among faculty. Inside Higher Education has run an article today containing the text of all the student contributions—which are great! Please feel free to add your own tips, ideally there, but here if you like; and do me, and the students, a favor, by sending the story to people you know! Also, think about replicating the event on your own campus (if you have one).

Impact from critical research: what might it look like and what support is required?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

As demands for demonstrating impact are increasingly woven throughout the funding and institutional architectures of higher education, concerns have been raised that the impact agenda could adversely affect critical and blue-skies research, favouring instead research that lends itself more easily to societal uptake. Ahead of REF 2021, Ruth Machen considers what impact from critical research could look like and how […]

The new, younger generation of scientists is much more open to dialogue with society

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/08/2018 - 8:00pm in

Public engagement is often thought to be something academics become involved in later in their careers, when relieved of the pressures to publish or secure funding and more able to devote time to outreach activities. Focusing on the successful SISSA for Schools programme, Simona Cerrato reports on a new generation of scientists who are confounding expectations and proving much more […]

What use is academia for small businesses and community interest companies?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/08/2018 - 8:00pm in

Pressures to demonstrate the impact of research has led to increasing numbers of academics looking beyond their peers for new audiences for their research findings, including to small businesses and community interest companies. But how can academia be of use to these groups? Emily Rainsford, LJ Rawlings, Lauren Mistry and Eve Forrest share reflections on a successful collaboration and skills […]