Congratulations to Dr. Victoria Galán-Muros

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 7 Minutes

On April 1st, 2016 Victoria Galán-Muros successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Universities at a cross-road – how European universities can engage business in research, education and valorisation to the benefit of all”. 

European universities are at a crossroad. Modern societal demands mean that governments are pushing universities to undertake more ‘usable’ research that solves societal problems and to better educate students for the world of work. These demands push universities closer to markets and businesses, which are eager to access talent and cutting-edge research. However, the university culture and structure are often not aligned to this new paradigm and thus cooperation and its management remain challenging.

In her thesis, Galan-Muros Victoria tackles this complex topic to increase the understanding of how European universities engage with business in education, research and valorization.In he dissertation, a comprehensive framework is developed: the University-Business Cooperation Ecosystem, which supports research and practice.

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.

 

A plea for boring research (and how to make it interesting)

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

A widely cited article from 1971 by Murray Davis starts as follows:

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting[1] (p. 309).

Although Davis’ claim might be provocative to some, I will not throw down this gauntlet here in this blog. Instead, I want to show how I discovered in my research that the interesting stuff is sometimes found in what at first sight may seem utterly boring or mundane. By means of pursue and persistence, the interesting can be found in the boring.

My research is about collaboration between the different railway organizations in the Netherlands. These organizations have had a rather turbulent history (see, for just one example out of many: http://bit.ly/1HVeJ2X) and with all the current media-attention and public opinions about the performance of NS and ProRail, it is hard to see what exactly is boring about my research. Nonetheless, not long after I started my fieldwork I took interest in the work of train dispatchers, who are responsible for the safe and efficient coordination of trains through stations. In practice, however, most of their work is automatized and dispatchers are mostly busy with the task of monitoring. Monitoring means: lean back in your chair and watch the computer systems do your work.

this3At first sight, I hardly considered to study these monitoring practices into more detail. It was difficult for me to believe that it would be of any significance for my research. However, after observing the dispatchers for quite some time and hearing them talk about their own work, I soon realized that perhaps it is exactly these apparently boring practices that may reveal  a very interesting world of railway employees. In the end, monitoring actually became one of the topics of my research*.
Instead of ‘doing nothing’, monitoring revealed how dispatchers, by means of their computer screens, ‘see and sense’ the railways. Whereas I saw dots, numbers and lines that apparently supposed to represent the actual train service, dispatchers saw an actual, concrete railway world.

This seeing and sensing is based on the fact that many dispatchers have been working for the railways for decades and gained a massive amount of practical knowledge. This may be knowledge ranging from how railway switches work to contextual details of the landscape adjacent to the tracks. John, one of the dispatchers I studied, told me how he once guided  the police (by phone) to a location very close to the tracks where one train driver saw a group of children playing with a ball. At first instance, the police could not find the exact location, but John was able to tell them that “they had to approach the area from the other side, just in front of the sawmill, as there’s a big viaduct blocking easy access”.

Claire, another dispatcher, told me stories about her previous work as a train driver,and how this helped her in being a good dispatcher. Every other day, someone in the Netherlands commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. This can have a tremendous impact on train drivers. The dispatchers are a drivers’ first point of communication after witnessing such a horrible situation. According to Claire, she is capable of having this conversation with the driver in an efficient way (to reduce the impact of this incident for other trains) because she does so emphatically. In other words, her experience as a train driver and witnessing what it means to see someone ‘jump’, is of great influence how she does her job. These stories that lay beneath the ‘boring’ practice of monitoring, taught me how collaboration between the different organizations during disruptions is much more than what I would ever read in handbooks or manuals.

Boring stuff may make you yawn in the first instance.But, there are several strategies through which you can possibly make the boring more interesting:

  • Persist! Whenever you notice something boring, don’t walk away. It may take some time before you can appreciate your observations as more than dull. Always remember the saying: ‘Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
  • Zoom in! From a distance, boring stuff is boring. Make it more interesting by getting up and close. I can guarantee you that even the 50 most boring things in the world will eventually reveal some very unexpected insights.
  • Breach! There have been numerous scholars studying the boring and mundane after Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), ranging from how people queue in supermarkets to how people greet each other on the streets. One of the ways these scholars reveal the interesting in the mundane, is by breaching the social norms and implicit rules to which these actions are organized. So, the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’, do not reply with the standard ‘Great’ but try the following: ‘What do you mean, how am I doing? Do you mean mentally? Physically?’. I can assure you an interesting conversation will emerge.

Here you have it, my plea for boring research. I highly recommend Davis’ somewhat provocative article and hope that you will value the generation of ‘interesting’ new theory as much as the testing or verification of ‘uninteresting’ existing ones.

References

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the social sciences, 1(2), 309.

[1] Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

* The paper I wrote about monitoring was presented at the Process Symposium on Kos, Greece. I would like to thank the Graduate Fund for the financial support to go there.

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Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

 

 

 

Doubting with the stars – why doubt is actually constructive for your project

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

It is on rainy days like today that I tend to dream away and drown in memories of past summer. While the leaves are dramatically glowing red and yellow, and I slowly but surely replace the shorts and shirts in my wardrobe with shawls and sweaters, I still see beaches, sun and cocktails. This summer was a special one for me, as I had the chance to visit a symposium in Rhodes, Greece, and a summer school in Warwick, England. These two work trips were partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS) and offered me the great opportunity to get up close and personal with my academic ‘heroes’. You can call me naïve, but I found it very intriguing to learn that these scholars you usually only refer to in the papers you write, actually are real human beings, with a face and a personality.

I noticed one common character trait while meeting my heroes in both Rhodes and Warwick that might seem unexpected for renowned academics: They doubt a lot! This observation was particularly noteworthy in light of their academic work in peer-reviewed journals, where they appear to argue with strong convinction to the highest degree. In real life, however, they seriously dare to doubt. This revelation was a bit troubling for me. For how can we claim to be ‘doing science’ if even those scholars who are cited a mere 10,000+ times tend to doubt about their concepts and theories? However, having carefully observed my heroes during these two events I had to conclude that an attitude of doubt might actually be at the very core of academic research. Related topics have already been raised, here on Socializingscience  and other popular media, as well as by scholars critically reflecting on the status of the field of management and organization studies (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2012; Hambrick, 2007). The article by Locke, Golden-Biddle and Feldman (2008) put things in perspective by discussing three strategic principles how we scholars can 1) recognize doubt, and 2) how we can use it constructively in a research project.

jjjj  Principle 1: Embrace not knowing

 We work in an environment where, in trying to get published, we are forced  to convince readers, to rationalize and legitimize our research process, and to strip away our text from any insecurity or imperfections that are in fact part and parcel of engaging in a PhD project. We thus have to unlearn how we typically respond to doubt in the first place: instead of resisting not knowing, embrace it; instead of turning away from doubt, turn towards it. In fact, doubt can be generative as long as you interpret it as a signal there is some work to do!

 

Principle 2: Nurture hunches

Hunches are unscientific. A hunch is a vague feeling or intuition about something that cannot be clearly discriminated or put into words. As such, they are of little scientific relevance or value. Although a hunch often makes no sense at this point in time, it might make a lot of sense in retrospect. Hunches sometimes constitute the beginnings of a great scientific discovery! More often than not, however, hunches are more like blind alleys. Typically, we try to avoid wasting time and, so we argue, hunches are unproductive. Blind alleys as well as great discoveries are inherent to doing research. Even Albert Einstein himself, perhaps the greatest hero of modern science, prioritized imagination over knowledge, and mistakes over success.

Principle 3: Disrupt the order

Once you know how to embrace not knowing and nurture your hunches, doubting is not automatically and potentially generative. A natural human reaction is to solve doubts and puzzles. However, this often implies that we start explaining things through rationalization, attempting to ‘box’ the problem in the categories of facts we already know or understand. In this way, puzzles or doubts rarely stimulate discoveries or stir up academic debate, as more often than not you end up with what you already knew in the first place. Order can even be disrupted on purpose, so the authors explain, in order to stimulate doubt; for example, by haphazardly rearranging your data set to foster doubt and, perhaps, come up with creative new solutions and understandings.

There you have it: three strategic principles, obviously extremely simplified, to foster doubt and to make it potentially generative. I have to admit that I myself doubted a great deal whether I should write this blog for an academic audience. I do not know if scientists are open to the non-factual. I have the hunch this blog might be an interesting read, but I do not know. But perhaps, at least I tickle the order of my audience a little bit, by showing how ‘unscientific’ doubting might in fact help our scientific work.

Good luck and lots of doubt!

kk

 

Reference:

Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2012), Has Management Studies Lost Its Way? Ideas for More Imaginative and Innovative Research. Journal of Management Studies, 50 (1), 128-152.

Hambrick, D.C., “The field of management’s devotion to theory: Too much of a good thing?”, Academy of Management Journal, 2007, 50 (6), 1346-1352.

Locke, K., Golden-Biddle, K., Feldman, M. S. (2008). Making doubt generative: Rethinking the role of doubt in the research process. Organization Science, 19(6), 907-918.

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Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.