Hello and welcome to my new research leadership blog! This first post has come out much later than I originally anticipated – the pandemic has created all sorts of challenges and pressures on my time and energy as an academic mum, but I am keen to get this started now. One thing I have been planning to do since I found out that I had been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship as part of Cohort 2 is to write a blog series that traces and records my journey and transition from a relatively independent early career researcher to a mid-career scholar gaining experience in research management and leadership. As far as I am aware, there isn’t much discussion or reflection out there about this process. I suppose it’s quite a niche area! However, afforded by the longitudinal timeframes of the Following Young Fathers Further study, I plan to write this blog to develop my own reflexivity about being a UK researcher and research manager in progress as part of a professional biographical record. I also hope that it offers some useful insights or even nuggets of advice about the process of research that are of wider application. This, the first post in my Research Leadership blog series, provides a brief bit of background about me, explains the rationale behind writing a reflexive blog, and notes the importance of good mentorship.
A little something about me first
In reading this post, you may already know me or you may not know much about me at all. In brief, I have now been a social researcher and academic for over ten years. I started my PhD at Lancaster University in 2007 and gained my doctorate in 2011. In the six years that followed, I had several teaching and research contracts, that enabled me to build my research career and interests, albeit underscored by the precarity and insecurity of multiple fixed term contracts that took me all over the UK (mainly Lancaster, Milton Keynes and Leeds). Through all of this insecurity, I worked as strategically as was possible to carve out a clear research narrative that coalesces around a feminist informed understanding of men’s care responsibilities across the lifecourse. I applied and was rejected for multiple pots of research funding and eventually, having briefly left academia to work in the charity sector, was awarded a Leverhulme Trust early career fellowship that brought me back into academia and proved to be career changing. I eventually secured a permanent Lectureship in Sociology at the University of Lincoln, an institution that for the first time, felt very much like ‘home’. At Lincoln, I was supported to develop the Future Leaders application on which this blog is based. I will reflect in more depth on aspects of this trajectory as my blog unfolds but for now I hope you have gained some sense of my challenging yet rewarding research trajectory.
Keeping a diary, being reflexive
To some extent I have always charted my career journey, albeit patchily. For me, this is not just about capturing the process but about carving out a space for being reflexive. Being reflexive entails more than describing what we do and what we observe. It involves the development of a critical awareness of self (and others) via reflection and analyses of key decision making. For my own personal use, I take regular and copious notes about my research and career progress, in what I call my ‘Academic Diary’. I use this to record and think through the decisions that I make and just occasionally this has even formed the basis of journal articles. My most recent publication for example makes reference to one of my past reflections in a blog. This paper, published in Sociological Research Online considers the ethics of camera choice in my Leverhulme Trust funded study ‘Men, Poverty and Lifetimes of Care’, which explored men’s care responsibilities in low-income families (please do contact me if you’d like access to a copy!). The blog post was originally written for my research blog, ‘Diary of an Early Career Academic‘ that I started many years ago, when I was early in my career. I still update this site occasionally but finding the time to nurture it and keep it dynamic as an individual who also has care responsibilities for two young children, has been no easy task. Nonetheless, it is interesting and even nostalgic to look back on this now, to see where I started, how far I’ve come and to look forward and think about where I still might be heading. I’m also convinced of the need to record, record, record! Sometimes what I think are just my ramblings, really do result in something useful!
The significance of strong mentorship
I also start this blog as an informal kind of mentorship for other aspiring researchers. Mentorship from senior colleagues has significantly influenced my own career trajectory. Support and investment from highly successful female academic leaders, like Prof. Brid Featherstone, Dr Kahryn Hughes and Prof. Bren Neale in particular, has been instrumental to my career progression and intellectual advance to date. My work with Brid Featherstone when we worked together at the Open University was undoubtedly the catalyst for my research career. Under Brid’s leadership, I had the opportunity to establish my own research narrative around contemporary grandparenting and fathering. The mentorship provided by Kahryn Hughes for my Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship award has also been transformative. What started as a mentoring relationship became a productive collegial relationship through which we have advanced methodological and substantive agendas through co-authored publications, conference presentations and bespoke training in qualitative secondary analysis. Emerita Professor Bren Neale, eminent in research about qualitative longitudinal methodologies and family sociology, has also mentored me into taking forward a number of intellectual projects, including the Following Young Fathers Further study.
The Fellowship also enables me to take these productive models of mentorship forward by investing in a strong network of new and emerging scholars in Family Sociology and building a critical mass of expertise in QL methodologies. I anticipate that this will enhance the quality of the outcomes from the study but also develop other emerging early research leaders in Laura and Linzi, under my leadership. My hope too is that Ben, as project administrator and research support for the project, will benefit from and be inspired by working with the team, by observing and contributing to the workings of an internationally significant research study.
I plan to post new blog posts in this series to the Following Young Fathers Further study website and will do so as regularly as possible as the study progresses. My first few blogs focus on my journey to securing the fellowship but I anticipate that the focus will evolve into reflections on the study as it progresses. I look forward to sharing this journey with you all, my readers.
“[Speaking about support of young fathers] We’ve done a lot of kind of advocation and representing them, a lot of the time there’s involvement with statutory services. They don’t have the care of the young person, the care’s provided by the state or the mother, so we’ve attended lots of meetings with the young person to offer additional support and facilitated contact where necessary and offered just general emotional wellbeing, support, improving robustness and resilience, encouraging them to have as amicable relationship as possible.”
“And I suppose it goes back to what we were saying before about behaviours, maybe the education side of stuff and the fact that men aren’t involved in those early conversations, you know, whether it is, I know they’re invited to come along to bumps to babies but I don’t know whether we go into the detail around some of that brain development side of stuff and things like that. Maybe that is the thing that really would change things. You know, if you were given all of that information about what happens to a child as they grow, in a scientific way, as easy to understand as possible, could be the thing that impacted on behaviour in the home.”
“I think both a mother and father combined, it’s communicating and both being on the same page of what’s best for your child or children, and for both, it’s just being there 100% for them and not, like, putting yourself first, it’s, you know, putting the child’s interests first... ”
“We need to be including, we need to not [just] be focusing on mum and child […] That’s a great focus but dad … dad’s not invisible, dad needs to be in the picture as well because there’s research that shows you the effect it has on children and families as a whole when dad isn’t in the picture, so services need to be changing the way in which they work so it’s more inclusive.”
“Cause I think a lot of the time, some of young people who end up having children have been through the care system or support systems and they can feel quite judged or labelled by organisations and it’s breaking the cycle and breaking them out of that to feel empowered to be able to take stuff back, that’s the real interest to me. So, it’s about getting support right, as in being there and giving advice and guidance and all them things that we can do, but also making sure that we are doing with people as opposed to people.”
“One of the most successful projects we ever did was an informal dads’ group, and it used to be on Saturdays […] they did what they wanted, they used to do things like breakfast, and they would have breakfast together and talk about dad stuff and where they were taking their kids. And that group was always really well attended because there was never an agenda. They were never judged. They were just there together.”
“...the whole stay at home dad thing is not something to be ashamed of, you know, if you’re a dad and you wanna take your daughter out for the day, or you wanna take your kid out for the day on your own, well why is that frowned upon, why can’t you take your child out for the day ”
“Oh…patience…compassion…tolerance, a whole boatload a’ that! Honestly, I like a whole lot of life. Sacrifice…compromise, yeah I think, yeah I think they, they would be the, the big, the five, I feel, I think that was five, they would be the main. ”
“We’re currently in touch with social services for two [dads] because they don’t understand why they can’t see their children because they haven’t been informed by social services, their partner. So there’s a massive communication breakdown with those young men, so that’s the main focus of what we’re dealing with at the minute.”