Two publications – minimum

You have to have two publications, minimum, to get a job in academia. It’s just how it is.

The above came at the end of a graduate workshop I attended on writing and publishing research in the philosophy of education. The statement took me back, not just for the gusto with which the speaker oriented herself alongside problematic measures for student performance but that this was spoken, without irony, to an audience of emerging educational philosophers.

That education and indeed higher education has become ever more centred around measures of student attainment, performance and standards, is known to many of us writing in this field. That philosophers of education spend increasing amounts of time voicing our concerns over that same performative culture is also noticeable. How disheartening, then, to hear that a regrettable consequence of engaging in precisely this kind of educational research is to spend increasing amounts of time trying to meet these kinds of arbitary targets.

Please don’t think me naive here. I am not advocating for the right of the researcher to remain in her ivory tower, her mad scribbles read by no one except her supervisors, nearest and dearest. Even without the pressure of impact – ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’ – it is incredibly important that my work has purchase amongst the community that it is aimed towards. It needs to be heard and as such, publishing in a peer-review journal or turning my thesis into a monograph might well be one way in which I make my ‘impact’.

Indeed, having a certain number of publications under our belt isn’t the only box-ticking exercise academics face. There are many of us that find ourselves, through necessity, agreeing to fulfil certain professional criteria. Perhaps by undertaking an uninspiring research project that shows interdisciplinary working, sitting on a time-suck committee or taking up a teaching module we’re not crazy about. All in order to carry on doing the work we deem most important to us. Admitting that the fulfilment of these tasks makes room for us to be able to reflect on the purpose of education, so as to challenge the culture of over-doing and over-measuring, is itself an exercise in professional integrity . We must remain careful to strike a balance between pursuing goods for ourselves and supporting others in their pursuit.

MacIntyre argues that it is through the process of thinking for oneself, questioning the dominant paradigms, that one learns to act for the common good. My concern is that the relatively new focus, that is being placed on emerging researchers, to publish early and frequently leaves no room for this kind of reflection. Instead we have an unhelpful surplus of thinking – to write, to research, to publish, to produce more, that inhibits criticality and holds us captive to accepted social orders.

By all means, ease us into the expected norms of academic life. Instruct us in the importance of obtaining our degrees and publishing our research. I’m all for it. However, as philosophers of education, for goodness sake, encourage us to think beyond only ourselves. To let our ‘outputs’ be based on more than a fixation with productivity. Instead, teach us to ask, as MacIntyre does: what good would I have achieved, if I achieved this?


My Story

Quite a while ago, I was asked by the marketing team at LTU if I would like to contribute to their blog series featuring graduate successes. I would, of course, be talking about my journey from the MA in Education to securing a funded PhD.

Well, after being interviewed by a very nice man called Brett (hi Brett!), this is the (belated) result. I have copied in the text of the interview, as to how I edited it, but you can also find it with all the bells and whistles, here.

Can you tell us a little more about your route into teaching?
Growing up, I loved school and have very fond memories of my time at Wirral Grammar School.  I was fortunate to have excellent teachers and at the age of sixteen, I was really enthusiastic about becoming one myself, but my teachers told me it was a difficult profession and I should try something else.

After studying English at York University, I actually began a career in the restaurant trade.  However, at 24 I was at a crossroads, weighing up whether to pursue this path or return to education. To help me decide, I sought out voluntary experience at Tadcaster Primary School. Being told that I had the potential to be really good was a huge confidence boost. I was successful in my application for a PGCE at York St John University and my first teaching position came at Seacroft Grange Primary School in Leeds. I worked there from 2006 to 2014, becoming a Leading Teacher for Education Leeds and progressing from Classroom Teacher to Assertive Mentoring Policy Leader for the Senior Leadership Team.

What made you choose Leeds Trinity?
In 2009, I found a Leeds Trinity University leaflet advertising the MA in Education in the staff room. At that point, I had started thinking about my professional development – did I want to continue as Leading Teacher, start my leadership training, or was there a different path I could take? I came to the Open Day and liked the sound of the modules, particularly the ones on coaching and mentoring and behaviour management. I found that I could tailor the MA to my classroom needs and interests. I found that Leeds Trinity’s MA best represented how I could become an outstanding educator and that was by dedicating my professional and personal time to academic research.

The personalisation offered by Leeds Trinity was different to other MAs available since it meant I could focus my research on areas of teaching and learning specific to my situation. It was an easy choice for me and definitely the right one.  Essentially, the MA in Education was a route to become the teacher I really wanted to be.
What have been the highlights of your Leeds Trinity experience so far?
I really enjoyed Graduation in 2014. It was a special day as I had just found out I’d been awarded the PhD studentship. so I was moving from one milestone to the next.

I’d also have to remark on how friendly and approachable the academic staff are. They understand that teachers are busy people and, as such, are willing to schedule tutorials and seminars that are convenient for us. I’ve had to spend a long time in the library and the staff are always ready to help you find the right book or journal article.

Another highlight of my time here has been the chance to meet other teachers at various stages in their careers, sharing experiences, best practice and working together on group presentations. I’ve appreciated the chance to become part of a great community and getting to know the academic interests of the lecturers in education. They’ve been invaluable in my ability to utilise the expert knowledge I’ve received here. MA in Education students also have the opportunity to present their research at Leeds Trinity staff research days.

At the moment, I’m involved with the Critical Thinking Skills Programme. This involves presentations to Level 4 undergraduate students about ethical issues and debates as well as hosting seminars on the behavioural policy of students in education.

How would you summarise your experience at Leeds Trinity?
If I had to summarise my Leeds Trinity experience, it would be life-changing, supportive and inspiring.

During the MA, I became quite ill over the 2010-11 academic year and underwent two operations.  As my MA centred on empirical research in the classroom, this became increasingly difficult to undertake. I seriously considered abandoning my studies. However, the MA programme manager, Dr Amanda Fulford, helped me to see that I could change the focus of my MA by tailoring it towards a philosophical project.  Without her intervention and continued support, I would have found this very difficult.  Funnily enough, my PhD is now in the Philosophy in Education and Dr Fulford is my supervisor, so the way everything changed, truly was life-changing.

I studied the MA in order to become a better teacher and I’m still here doing a PhD because that goal never really finishes. I’m grateful that Leeds Trinity has given me a place to explore how I can make a lasting difference in education.

What advice would you give to Newly Qualified Teachers about to embark on their teaching careers?
My first advice would be to think about doing the MA, even if not straight away.  The skills and educational experience you will learn and take away from this course will enable you to become a better you, not just a better teacher.

And finally, what would be your dream role?
Both teaching and research are just different faces of the same coin. I’d love to continue my work in a post-doctoral research position and by continuing to work with educators in initial teacher or post-graduate education studies.