Cajkler and Wood (2016) proposed the idea of pedagogic literacy as a framework for understanding the work of teachers, arguing for a holistic, complexity driven conceptualisation of the nature of pedagogy. This led to some fundamental ideas central to understanding the emergence of teacher practice:
1. Pedagogic literacy is a continuing process, not an endpoint. Throughout a career, a teacher should continue to develop, to add to their literacy, the consequence of exposure to new contexts, experiences, and reflections; there is no endpoint.
2. The role of a teacher is complex, and no model can ever hope to capture the entirety of the pedagogic process. Therefore, any model is always partial, a philosophical stance rather than a complete framework. This also means that any attempt to list the elements of what it means to be a (great) teacher, particularly through the use of standards and tick-boxes, will always be over-reductive and doomed to failure.
With this work in mind, here I briefly sketch out a similar philosophical stance in relation to the process of ‘becoming researcher’.
As the nature of doctoral provision has shifted and become ever more focused on skills and career development so there has become a move towards ‘researcher development’ frameworks, official structures and tick lists. These tend to focus on the skills base and career paths of researchers presenting a very instrumental notion of the processes by which they might flourish. The trouble with such a framework becoming dominant is that it begins to lead to a reductive view of what it means to be a researcher, focusing ever more on performative career structures than on the academic flourishing of researchers.
As with pedagogic literacy, I want to suggest that the concept of research literacy should sit on similar foundations:
1. Research literacy is a continuing process with no endpoint over a career. Researchers can and should continue to develop their practice, thinking and expertise as they encounter new contexts, new ideas, and new experiences. This can lead to the assimilation of new perspectives into their own work and their philosophies of research.
2. The role of the researcher is complex, and no single framework, tick list, or model can hope to capture the entirety of the work involved. A model will always be a partial capture of the emerging research process. Hence, any model needs to be seen as a philosophical pointer, a way of reflecting on the nature of research. It should be a loose support for helping individuals consider how they understand their work as their expertise begins to emerge and develop.
Therefore, the model below is offered in the spirit of an incomplete account which nevertheless might allow for discussion and reflection about what I call research literacy.
This is very much a first look and a work in progress and more thought needs to go into thinking about the detail (and probably the structure).
Researcher development is included within the conceptualisation of research literacy, taking the role of the more career and instrumental aspects of the becoming researcher. It involves career planning, reflection on where within the emergent complexity of becoming a researcher an individual might feel themselves to be.
Whilst the notion of researcher development is becoming increasingly popular, it is a very narrow way of defining the emergence of researcher experience. Any researcher needs to locate their work within their disciplinary specialism, expanding and deepening their knowledge and its application, considering how their ever-expanding understanding might feed into new perspectives and projects. For many, even a focus on the immediate disciplinary context will not be enough as they begin to move into interdisciplinary work or assimilate ideas and knowledge form other disciplines into their own. As an educationalist I have found the organisational sciences far more stimulating and useful than much of the education literature on leadership and management. Hence, research literacy needs to include a disciplinary perspective.
Disciplinary specialisms are also heavily associated with the understanding and application of research methods. The nature of acceptable evidence varies between disciplines and as a result impacts on value judgements of what constitutes a robust methodological approach, underpinned by core philosophical questions and debates. A continued engagement with research methods is essential to any researcher, but needs to be understood in relation to the other elements of research literacy.
As experience in research is developed, some argue the need for a focus on study and transferable skills. I have included this here but am ambivalent. What are transferable skills, and do they really exist? If ‘presentation skills’ are a transferable skill, are they really transferable into any context, or are they in large part contextually developed within the individual’s research area? I would perhaps argue that there is a ‘distance decay effect’, with transferability into cognate disciplines being relatively easy, but becoming progressively more difficult as the academic and cultural traditions of disciplines diverge.
Perhaps more important than transferable skills is a focus on the development of critical reading and writing within a discipline as an individual develops their understanding and practice of research. Both reading, and writing are critical aspects of research work which require long periods of time to begin to feel comfortable with, and as with the wider notion of research literacy, will rarely become fully fluent, particularly where new approaches, genres and audiences are sought.
The final aspect identified is that of academic cultures. This is made up of the wider contexts in which research sits. The relationship of research with the wider academic endeavour is considered here. How do other responsibilities, such as teaching, fit together with the desire to develop research, often in an increasingly time-poor environment? Which conferences are the best to attend? Which journals are the best for certain research foci? What will funders fund and why? What are the political dynamics within the department, the organisation, the field? This is the wider interface between the researcher and the academic world in which they are working.
I see all of these strands intertwining and emerging together, the complex interplay of the work of the becoming researcher. But this means the world of tick-boxing, career planners, etc can lead to a hyper-reductive view of research. In contrast a research literacy framework gives a loose view which serves as an aide memoire, a touchstone for a continued debate and reflection on an individual’s needs and interests at any particular point in time as they continue to add to their understanding and practice over the course of a career. Perhaps the most interesting insight here is that the journey will never have an endpoint, but the fun is in constantly trying to get closer to the unobtainable!