Research elite and academic artisans

Photo: Neil Thomas
Academic careers have become increasingly competitive and stratified. There are research high-flyers and star scientists, and there are “ordinary” academics without such a dazzling career success.  Two recent articles in Higher Education offer glimpses of different kinds of career building in the current managerial university.

Marek Kwiek, based on his study on highly productive academics in 11 European countries, concludes that the European research elite is a very homogeneous group. The results corroborate the 10/50 rule, meaning that 10 percent of academics produce 50 percent of all publications. These top performers form a universal academic species: They are much more cosmopolitan, much more research-oriented and work much longer hours than their lower-performing colleagues.

But who are these lower-performing colleagues? Are they lazy deficient failures, lacking both the skills and the drive to succeed in research? Absolutely not, according to Angela Brew, David Boud, Lisa Lucas and Karin Crawford in their recent article (2018). They are academic artisans engaged in academic artisanal work.

Academic artisans are committed to the institution, to their colleagues and to the students. They take care of the collective good and keep the university going. Yet, they are not sacrificing themselves so that others are able to fly high. Instead, they are creatively crafting their work and career so that they are able to satisfy their own goals and needs while at the same time meeting institutional requirements. What is vital to them is to have a sense of purpose and personal meaning in their work. This may  have career consequences as academic artisanal work tends to be invisible, forgotten and not recognized by the prevailing productivity metrics.

Though these articles do not reflect much on gender, it seems obvious that gender matters. I am thrilled to scrutinize what kinds of signs of research elite and academic artisans our interviews with female academics may entail.

Oili-Helena Ylijoki


References:

Brew, Angela; Boud, David; Lucas Lisa and Crawford, Karin (2018) Academic artisans in the research university. Higher Education 76(1), 115-127.

Kwiek, Marek (2016) The European research elite. Higher Education 71(3), 379-397.

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