The Academic Woman Interview (2): My research passions

Second of a series of four posts reporting on my interview with Anatu Mahama of the Academic Woman magazine

Anatu Mahama, editor-in-chief of the The Academic Woman, interviewed me and asked me some great questions on four key themes: my career history & advice for juniorsmy past and current researchbuilding inclusive research cultures, and research mentorship. This post deals with the second key theme.

Which of your articles are you most proud of?

That’s a tough question; I am at least a little proud of all my articles. I would not have published them if I wasn’t. I have always made sure that I didn’t put anything out there just to get it published. Moreover, I have always been heavily involved in every article I have co-authored, even if I was only the last author. So, every article I have published is special to me in some way. But if I really had to choose, I would pick two areas.

Academic referencing errors and their consequences

The first would be my work on academic referencing errors and their consequences for our scholarship and credibility as academics. This started with my first ever publication in 1995, entitled the persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates. It recently won an award, so I wrote up the story behind it here: What's the story behind your first paper?

This paper came directly out of my literature review in the first year of my PhD, where I found most articles on expatriation starting with a statement that expatriate failure rates were (very) high to justify doing research on the topic of expatriation. But when I started looking up the references they used to support these claims, I couldn’t find any empirical evidence for this it. The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates appeared to have been created by massive (mis)citations.

I followed up on this with an article entitled Are our referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility? That put the issue in a broader context and provided 12 guidelines for good academic referencing. I am proud that I was brave enough to publish something that was going against what top scholars in the field were saying and that exposed the poor referencing practices used in academia more generally.

But I must say I also really enjoyed writing these two articles. I did – and still do – enjoy forensic investigations to get to the bottom of something that most other academics have ignored. I have continued to publish many of these types of papers throughout my academic career. Many of them were in the area of bibliometrics and research evaluation, which is more data driven than Business & Management.

Citation analysis in the Social Sciences

And that’s the other area I would like to single out: my research on citation analysis in the Social Sciences. I investigated which metrics and data sources could be used to measure research performance in the Social Sciences. To date, most studies had focused on the Natural Sciences and Life Sciences. My own research was therefore strongly motivated by a desire to "emancipate" the Social Sciences and to ensure that the field of Bibliometrics, and research evaluation more generally, properly reflected their specificities. I also wanted to help academics who feel lost in the new world of metrification.

My interest in Bibliometrics has thus been mainly focused on individual academics and how their professional lives are affected by an increasing focus on metrics. In all, I have published over a dozen articles in this field and am proud to have helped to put the Social Sciences on the map in research evaluation. I showed that when using the right data sources and the right metrics, academics in the Social Sciences are just as impactful – if not more impactful – than academics in the Natural and Life Sciences.

What is your current research? Why is it important?

My current research is embedded in two streams of research that I have engaged with in the past 30 years. First, I have worked in the broad area of international management, with a focus on HQ-subsidiary relationships, international HRM and expatriate management and the role of language in MNCs. Second, I have studied topics in what is called the "Science of Science", i.e., the mechanisms underlying the "doing of Science", including gender bias in Science, evaluation of research performance, and disciplinary differences in publication and citation practices.

What attracts me to my two current research topics - effective interlingual communication and creating collaborative and inclusive research cultures - is the more practical and applied nature of them. This is something that has become more important to me at this stage of my career. Although I still publish in top journals occasionally, my main concern now is how I can make a real difference with my research.

The first topic, ensuring effective interlingual communication, falls in the broad area of international management. Obviously, interaction between native and non-native speakers of English is the order of the day in the UK. But we still know very little about how we can facilitate effective communication between these two groups in a way that is respectful of the needs of both parties. I am hoping to design research-based training and interventions to model effective interlingual communication behaviour.

In the Science of Science area, I am interested in how to shape research cultures. Again, most of this is applied research through my role at Middlesex University as Research Mentor and Staff Development Lead and my role as co-founder of the CYGNA women in academia network. So, what I do is I read a lot about research in these fields and the general area of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Then I try to iteratively develop initiatives that can help creating supportive, collaborative, and inclusive research cultures.

My work in this area is starting to be noticed in the Higher Education sector. In 2022 I presented on this topic in two professional development courses for academic managers. The first dealt with Building Inclusive Cultures, was aimed at Research Deans and was organised by the British Academy of Management and the Chartered Association of Business Schools. The second focused on Supporting ECRs, was organised by the European Foundation of Management Development and targeted at Deans of Faculty.

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