Tag Archives: academics

The one where it’s masters not bust

It was the 14th March 2011 and I was sat in a hotel room in Hong Kong panicked about finding people to interview for the research project of my Masters. At that point I said that by September 2011 I was either going to get a Masters or Bust and it was from there this blog started.

Now as Mr Burns (Robbie not C. Montgomery) famously said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” at so it was that by November 2011 I was entering the 3rd year of my 2 year course having failed an exam (by 3%) and my dissertation (by a mind boggling 1%). Having watched my friends and peers from my course celebrating their results I felt to put it mildly….glum. I wasn’t bust but I did have another year of study ahead.

Having passed a resit exam I have spent most of November on tenterhooks awaiting my dissertation result which would basically decided whether I entered year 4 (and some form of padded room) or finally got to declare a result. It was yesterday afternoon sat in a workshop with a group of civil engineers (who let me tell you aren’t that civil when they’re not happy about their break out topics) that I got an e-mail explaining in overlong detail that I had in fact passed my dissertation (by a whisker). I now get to add a few more letters to my name and if I was one of those people who put them on my business card I now could…but I don’t, so I won’t!

To describe it as a colossal anti-climax would be understating it and in reflecting over undergraduate results (jumping around, hugging and boozing) or my CIPD results (hugging and boozing) it didn’t have the same impact but I suppose it’s another tick in the box and life continues pretty much as it was.

I remember saying at the end of my CIPD that if I ever suggested studying again that someone needed to find a gun, take me out and shoot me…and this time I mean it – if I ever suggest studying again please form an orderly queue!

P.S. Anyone got an ideas on what I can rename the blog to? 😉


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The one with the milestones

If you’ve read this blog from the start then firstly, I doff my cap to you and your carriage clock is in the post but secondly, you’ll recall that it started with me talking about what was in front of me: the end of my Masters course. At that point if I recall correctly (and I do because I’ve just been back to read it) I had an essay, 2 exams and a dissertation/project to finish. The good news is the essay is done (it was about diversity and gender and spawned a post all its own which you can find here). In just under a week all that will remain will be my project as my exams are next week and I say this for all to see: I will never revise for anything EVER again….

I am one of those awful people who leave things to the last moment (if you read any psychological profile on me it will contain the phrase ‘is energised by last minute pressure) which makes any form of academic preparation a gut wrenching nightmare. Things will trot along nicely and at some point I will have the “I haven’t done enough” moment, I will feel sick and from somewhere my memory will gain stickiness that belays its normal average function. With just over 4 days to the first exam, this moment has not yet happened and nothing is sticking. Crap.

But I digress; the reason for writing this was not to complain about my random revision foibles. The milestone will be the end of the exams and hopefully I will be far too drunk (or preparing for something in work that I’ve forgotten) to write about this but the other milestone was a meeting with my project supervisor. To be technically correct she is my second project supervisor as my first supervisor took a sabbatical (oh to be an academic) but the meeting went well and I came away feeling encouraged and on the right track….ish

In the course of the meeting she asked if I would take part in an open day for potential students and as part of that conversation she asked a question that loads of people have asked me (in various tenses), “Have you enjoyed it?”. The answer I gave is pretty consistent with the answer I give/have given everyone which is “I hate it at the time but enjoy it with reflection”. She then went on to ask me what was the most challenging part and got the following list:

  1. Having to read 6 journal articles a week whilst working and travelling for work (I must have been drunk if I thought reading whilst travelling was going to be my thing – jetlag and theory DO NOT mix)
  2. Learning to think and process things differently. This may sounds a grandiose statement but getting my head around the academia of it all has really hurt
  3. The discipline of writing essays and structuring thought constructed around published thought.
  4. The terminology (more of that in a moment)
  5. Putting my pride to one side and admitting to REALLY not understanding things but balance this with the comfort of others being in the same boat
  6. Finally, and most importantly, keeping all of this in context of the rest of my life: work, social, relationships, friends, chores etc

Probably the defining moments in terms of both terminology and pride was our first weekend workshop held at a conference centre (latterly known as the Gulag) in Buckinghamshire. Having been issued with 5 articles to pre-read we went to our first lecture and from there our first discussion group.

A brief aside. Have you ever heard anyone use or used yourself the term “paradigm shift”, e.g. ‘we need a paradigm shift in strategy’. Next time you hear someone use it, claim 20 points at lingo-bingo and then ask them this: “what do you mean by paradigm?”

Our first lecture opened by defining some paradigms, both in terms of their ontology and epistemology. STOP. If you’ve never heard those words before, are you thinking “what the hell do they mean?” Are you wondering if you should know them? Are you wondering if everyone else knows them? I was, and it was only 9.12am on a cold grey Saturday morning. I have wiki linked the two words so feel free to have a look if you fancy it but that was defining moment #1 in terms of terminology and pride.

In the ensuing group discussion we have to go through the 5 articles we had (of course) pre-read and categorise them by paradigm. We didn’t do well. However, the 1 article we all nailed and I felt really comfortable with was the one from the Harvard Business Review so it wasn’t all bad. Ahhh but it was because on the arrival of our group tutor it turned out that academically speaking the HBR article was simple, trite, lacking in substance, not peer reviewed etc etc etc and basically if that was the one you made sense of you were doomed….

This was defining moment #2 but lead to my breakthrough and comfort in realising why we were doing this as a group – no one else got them either! BRILLIANT! As it turned out the rest of the room felt equally alienated, panicked and shared a sinking feeling. And you know what? The course tutors knew it too! It was later admitted that they started us with some of the most complex ideas and material both to future proof us for the rest of the course but also that from there it only ever got easier (or at least was the same).

Now I would normally spend a few sentences talking about the support of groups, pride coming before a fall or something that neatly ended this but I’m not going to. Why? Because my gut has just started wrenching and I need to revise!

And no I’m not taking part in the open day. My decision not hers fortunately 🙂


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The one where we’re divided by a common language

In the inaugural post of this endeavour I mentioned that in the open day for Birkbeck the phrase that was oft repeated was “it’s a very academic course”. At the time this didn’t really sink in, of course it’s academic; it’s at a university and its run by academics. Little did I know…

Having done a science undergrad there was of course a mixture of theory and practice (the spark gun in our lab that was ACTUALLY shaped like a gun gave endless amusement) but what I hadn’t realised was that there are courses at university that are ALL about theory and NOTHING about practice…

Attributions differ (Churchill, GBS and Wilde are all in the mix) for “two nations divided by a common language” in reference to the UK and US but when it comes to academics and practitioners it seems the language is just the tip of the iceberg, but the language….seriously….who writes like that? And why? If I have achieved nothing else in the nigh on 2 years I’ve been ‘at this’ it’s to get something of a grip on being able to decipher ‘academeese’ and now feel very comfortable in reading a paper/journal article and enjoy seeing the versions that are written for the practitioner press (spot the academics in People Management and find their original papers – it’s fun, no REALLY, it is!)

So where am I going with this? Well, it seems that academics put a lot of time and effort into research and then drawing conclusions from that research. At the same time practitioners put a lot of effort into, ummm, practitionering… but do the two groups actually talk to each other? It seems not. One of our lecturers, Rob Briner, is on something of a jihad with regard to evidence based management, challenging both parties it seems – the academics to make their work accessible (both intellectually and physically) and the practitioners to actually give a stuff about basing their work on research and not just the latest business fad/fashion/book.

Rick (@FlipchartFT) wrote a great blog post on it (which he directed me to when I had my own Briner moment) and to anyone interested I would highly recommend reading it. The sad thing is aside from Prof Briner and a few brave souls it does seem that most people really don’t give a stuff about what they are basing their work on and if a consultant says/they do…especially if the consultant works for a very large firm of consultants and charges a day rate equivalent to the GDP of a small Polynesian country

I feel a certain sense of frustration at this and prior to this experience of studying I was just like everyone else and still fall into the trap when trying to make things a) palatable and b) defensible (everyone loves a fad, especially if it’s been in the Harvard Business Review) but if I make it through this academic endeavour I, the undersigned, promise to be better Professor Briner, I do!

….and as a final though if anyone ever tells you “it’s very academic” don’t brush it off, stop, thinking about it and treat it like the warning on the front of a packet of cigarettes because whilst journal articles don’t kill, trust me they can maim!

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The one where the plot thickens…and I ask for help

You may have got from my first post (it was there in the subtext) that I am experiencing a little anxiety about my research project. The project is a 10,000 word dissertation, fully researched and referenced. I do love that in a piece of work that is supposedly mine, that my opinion has no input whatsoever – unless it’s cited I can’t say a word!!

Also, I must say as an aside I would never make an academic. The reasons for this are numerous, but the primary one it seems my surname is far too prosaic – Jones. The bunch I seem to end up reading have weird and wonderful surnames which makes writing any bibliography a chore. If your name is Smith or Davies – please, get into academia, quickly!

The most difficult hurdle so far has been choosing a topic to research for the aforementioned. You have the WHOLE of occupational psychology and with frustrations about how specific an academic research question has to be aside, that is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ to choose from.

So what have I chosen?

Entrepreneurship. Specifically internal entrepreneurs (aka Intrapreneurs or Corporate Entrepreneurs). If you say entrepreneur to most people they think of Branson, The Dragons or god help us all sur’Alan … but my interest is not in these people. I am interested in those who achieve as entrepreneurs but within a corporate setting. They have launched businesses within businesses or they have launched whole new product or service areas. They have structures, processes, constraints, budgets, teams, governance and most critically for my project – bosses!

Which brings me to the source my of current highest anxiety… where the hell do I find people who are achieving as Corporate Entrepreneurs (you may see where this is going) if only there was a way to speak to people who knew people who knew other people – some form of network… If I could tell them what I was looking for and see if they knew anyone who would be prepared to be interviewed…

So (and this is the call to action folks) can I ask (ever so politely) that you have a think about the people you know and if any of them strike you as meeting these criteria – they have achieved as entrepreneurs, in a corporate environment, ideally working at Senior Management level PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know… I would only want to interview them and may there even be a beer/glass of wine/mojito (delete as appropriate) for those who help (that’s the incentive bit)

Yours sincerely etc


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