ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Getting inside the mind of an expert management researcher
Your learning through the two-way process of academic discourse
Who do we think you are?
Who do you think your audience is?
What’s distinctive about researching management?
Induction into a western tradition of academic scholarship
What’s your ‘academic comfort zone’, and how could you expand it?
Official expectations that you will develop your critical frame of mind
Expectations check-up
How well does your work match-up to your assessors’ expectations?
Are you a more critical thinker than you realise?
Experiences of thinking critically in your academic work
Helping yourself learn to think like an expert management researcher
Comparing lists of Dos and Don’ts
Maximising your learning by linking critical reading with self-critical writing
What’s your ‘academic comfort zone’, and how could you expand it?


Whatever your previous experience of academic training, you will probably find it straightforward to understand the conventions of the western academic tradition. But if you have not followed these conventions before, you may feel uncomfortable at first when you are encouraged to do so in your present academic work. Even if you are used to this tradition, engaging in a constructively critical way with other students and academics can feel emotionally threatening - especially when they are challenging your ideas!

Here is a short reflective exercise. You are first invited to identify the limits of your ‘academic comfort zone’ in relation to the three aspects of the western academic tradition that we listed above. Then you are invited to consider how you might consciously work on extending any of these limits which you may wish to change.

Rate how comfortable you feel, or think you would feel, when being encouraged in your present academic work to take the following actions. For each study activity in turn indicate your feelings: whether you are:

1.  very comfortable

2.  comfortable

3.  have mixed feelings

4.  uncomfortable

5.  very uncomfortable

Study activity inside the western academic tradition

How comfortable I feel with this (e.g. have mixed feelings)

1.       Thinking-up my own ideas about the topic I am studying

 

2.       Putting forward my own ideas to students during classes, or to academics in seminars and conferences

 

3.       Putting forward my own ideas to my academic tutor, supervisor or academic mentor

 

4.       Learning about others’ ideas in my reading

 

5.       Listening to students’ ideas in my classes, or to those of academics in seminars and conferences

 

6.       Acknowledging where others’ ideas have informed me by referring to their publications in my academic writing

 

7.       Ensuring that I acknowledge the source of any direct quotation from others’ writing

 

8.       Offering constructively critical comments about students’ ideas in my classes, or about academics’ ideas in seminars and conferences

 

9.       Receiving constructively critical comments about my ideas from students in my classes, or from academics in seminars and conferences

 

10.   Making constructively critical comments about academics’ work in my own writing for assessment

 

11.   Receiving constructively critical comments on my writing from my academic tutors, supervisor, or academic reviewers

 

12.   Constructively challenging ideas put forward by academics in my classes, or academics in seminars and conferences

 

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What were the limits of your comfort zone?

We guess that any aspects lying well inside your comfort zone - where you are ‘very comfortable’ - are most likely to be those which don’t involve you exposing your ideas and written work to the critical scrutiny of others. (Say, activity 4, where you listen to others’ ideas.)

Conversely, aspects that do involve subjecting your ideas and work to others’ critical scrutiny are most likely to be close to, or beyond, the limits of your comfort zone - where you may be ‘very uncomfortable’. (Say, activity 9, where students in your class or colleague academics in a seminar or conference offer constructively critical comments on your ideas.)

Most students and academics we know (including ourselves) feel quite or very uncomfortable when receiving constructively critical comments on their ideas and written work which implies that there is room for improvement. Their discomfort arises whatever academic tradition they have experienced. But as long as this feedback is constructive, it is perhaps the most important opportunity for learning to think like an experienced management researcher that anyone can have.

Therefore, it is important to try to expand your comfort zone if necessary, not only to accept constructively critical feedback, but actively to seek it.

You may have noted how we have repeatedly used the term ‘constructive’. In the western academic tradition it is ethically justifiable to give critical feedback - whether negative or positive - only if it is intended to achieve a constructive purpose. In other words, doing this is appropriate only in order to support others’ learning.

As a student or academic, you are entitled to expect others in the academic community that you are a member of to be respectful of you as a person. You may expect them to give critical feedback on your ideas and written work that is always constructive. Equally, when offering others your critical feedback, you are obliged to respect them and ensure that your feedback is always constructive.

How may you expand the size of your comfort zone? We invite you now to look back at the comfort ratings you gave yourself for each activity. For those where you recorded mixed feelings, or being uncomfortable or very uncomfortable, reflect on how you might try to extend your comfort zone.

Could you try gradually engaging more fully in these activities, always with a constructive purpose, so that in time you become more comfortable with them?

To download and use this document – click  here