On the Quest for a Researcher Identity

Glenelg

The quest for my researcher identity is a challenge to say the least.

The following saccharine considerations sprang from a meeting I had today. I talked to the master of grants, exploring various options and I realised the worst question someone could possibly ask me is: So what do you want?

Look at the trees above. Unless you are well versed in trees, you might—like me—have to wait until spring to be able to give these trees a name, a label. Who are these trees? Will they spring lovely scented blossoms, will their leaves shine in all colours of the rainbow in the autumn sun, will they carry sweet or poisonous—or both—fruit in summer? Until the time of maturing and rest has passed and the trees come alive once again, I will keep guessing. (Well, or look up in one of my books.)

At the moment, suitable to the February snow, I feel like one of these trees. The potential lingering in the roots, waiting for the first rays of Maytime sun ready to show. Though what will be shown, I have yet to find out.

Not a Hard Core Researcher

He said that according to my LinkedIn profile I am not a ‘hard core’ researcher. Admittedly my first reaction was feeling miffed and somewhat offended, after all, I am rigorous in my research approaches, and analysis. Yet, this is not what he meant with ‘hard core researcher’. According to the master of grants a hardcore researcher is someone who lives of publishing, with impact as marginal apparition. I, according to him and my LinkedIn profile, am more practical, concerned about impact.

Becoming Defensive  

For I am only human, my next internal dialogue was all defensive:

Well, what do you expect? I lost a big chunk of my family, almost died in a car crash, had the physiotherapist telling me I won’t ever have a normal life again due to serious trauma of spinal nerves, proved her wrong, had always several—up to 6 at a time—and no, they are not all on LinkedIn—part-time jobs because my ‘full-time’ grant did not even cover rent, was member of several committees and research networks, research fellow, all of this next to my ‘full-time’ PhD. So somehow I was at capacity and I am not even running full disclosure here. I still have three co-authored (Oh do I hear your eyes rolling!) publications. I simply was at capacity.

And then I realised that none of that, matters. My value as researcher, and the judgement about my quality as researchers is established only by publication. Nothing else matters for employers and funders.

Hm

Understanding Secret Trepidations 

For the last one and a half years, I am having a very cushy job, so theoretically I have not excuse for not having published then. I also have 5 started papers in my ‘to write’ folder. I always get to a certain point and then stop. Discard. Procrastinate. Begin another paper. It took me until two weeks ago—when I wrote a conference abstract for a conference in Germany, in my mother tongue—to realise what the actual issue is. Confidence. After all this time, I still feel—and yes I know it is not justified, and my English is actually not THAT bad—that my writing in English is dilettantish, unprofessional, and clumsy. Harsh judgement you may say. If you are bilingual read my German versus my English writing and you will see they are worlds apart. But then I also realised that it can never be the same, because no language can ever translate in such way and my expectations are disproportionally high. I admit a dismissive side remark on a social media site from a native speaker about the quality in writing in different dissertations, did nothing to help my confidence.

So what do I do? Get over myself and just write anyhow?

The Researcher Identity

I know I want to conduct impact-focussed research but I also want to do ‘proper research’. Let’s just say impact focussed and action research are simply not the same. The issue that annoyed me most with my PhD was that all I could say was: “I contributed to the discourse in the field.” Okay, for the record, this was not the only thing I could say. Nevertheless, I want to influence policy development, improving the education system. Exploring and understanding why some young adults succeed and others not, even if they have the ‘same’ (if there ever is such a thing) background. I want to know how possibility thinking can be installed, and if this indeed is the most significant hindrance factor in young adults’ life expectations and trajectories. But I also want to run a proper research project. I am fed up with fiddly little spouts of evaluation. So there you go this is—I guess—my emerging researcher identity. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Conclusions

So I need to thank the master of research grants for asking his admittedly painful questions today. They coerced me to reinforce my identity negotiations as researcher. Throw excuses, no matter how justified at the time, over board, and focus on what’s next.

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