Every PhD is a different shade of excruciating. Mine was no different. My PhD was however, like a growing number of studentships, partly funded by the organisation I was researching, as part of an ESRC Case Studentship. This type of research is called ’embedded research’ and two friends of mine Ruth McGinity (University of Manchester) and Maija Salokangas (Trinity College, Dublin) have started an academic network exploring the various trials, tribulations and ethical harrumphs of doing paid-for research (see here). Ruth and Maija have edited a special issue “‘Embedded research’ as an approach into academia for emerging researchers” that’s just been published in Management in Education.
When I started my PhD, I imagined that if my time wouldn’t be spent playing golf with the DCS and council Chief Exec and words and ideas pondered over and put into practice… then I’d at least be a critical friend to those working in the council. A critical friend is a commonly used definition for understanding an academic-practitioner relationship, where equals come together in a robust relationship of challenge and support to improve practice. I quickly found myself to be less of a friend to the senior managers I was researching than a critical nephew, with the real relationship being between the managers and supervisors. Then once all the managers I worked with moved on and the initiative I was researching died I found myself to be critical orphan. The article is a Dickensian tale of a plucky young street urchin trying his luck, getting help and getting on, and not making a fortune:
The article engages with the opportunities and constraints raised by embedded research during times of rapid and extensive organisational change. Embedded research is an increasingly common approach for funding PhD studentships. The rapid and extensive reforms of the English public sector pose significant and underexplored challenges for embedded researchers and research. The author was embedded during his PhD and here he explores different metaphors – ‘critical friend’, ‘critical nephew’ and ‘critical orphan’ – to define the relationship between himself and the organisation in which he was embedded. The methodological and theoretical development of the research is then outlined in terms of the autonomy and access of the ‘critical orphan’ embedded research relationship. The article concludes that although ‘orphanship’ can be a positive development for the research, the lack of contribution to the sponsor organisation may prevent the further development of embedded research relationships in public sector organisations.
There’s lots of great articles by other embedded researchers in the special issue. So take a look.