Dr Carole Couper, a Mandarin-speaker and Chinese studies and Management graduate, was awarded her PhD in International Business at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, in December 2015. Her doctoral thesis analysed the impact of institutional differences on the process of internationalisation network development by Scottish SMEs into China. Carole now plans to continue her research in the field of International Business and Entrepreneurship with a focus on phenomena that span institutional boundaries. Prior to conducting academic research, Carole worked as an International Sales and Marketing Manager responsible for Asian markets, which led her to experience living and working under multiple institutional frameworks. Her previous employers include Scottish and Newcastle plc and Diageo plc. A French citizen and long term resident of Scotland, Carole has also lived in Belgium, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

As a junior academic researcher, the issue of ‘innovativeness’ in academic research has been a continual cause of anxiety and doubt: is it wise for a Junior Scholar to be innovative? When I first embarked on my PhD, I was advised by experienced academics to avoid taking risks and stick to the road well-travelled. This recommendation did not, of course, apply to my thesis’ contribution(s), only to the ontological/epistemological practices that were seen as acceptable in my discipline (International Business); and in this case, to a preference for positivistic and economics-based quantitative methodologies.

Whilst I usually did emphasise well-supported perspectives, I have an unfortunate trait in the shape of a questioning mind. I will only buy into accepted wisdom as long as it makes sense from my research’s perspective. On many levels, it did not and I ended up selecting a rather novel methodology, whilst having to pioneer some truly unheard of linguistic techniques. This was far from an easy decision: I had to triple justify everything I did, while reading hundreds of additional methodological papers to do so; and I was lucky to have the support of my supervisors. Throughout my PhD, my approach was met with numerous challenges from more experienced researchers who were not familiar with what I was doing and often simply did not understand. Although I doubted myself – was this simply a reckless egotistical trip of doing things my own way? – A little voice inside my head kept saying: ‘no, no, this is the right way to do this. Just persevere.’

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Until the end I worried: for a less experienced academic researcher, being innovative can also mean a much higher risk of failure. The night before my viva, although confident about the work I had done, my enormous methodological section included, I knew the next day could go one way or the other. Would the examiners accept this novel approach? Luckily, they did: my viva only took forty minutes and my PhD was awarded unconditionally. The realist in me, however, was not fooled: given more positivistic examiners, things could have been very different. Nonetheless, four long years of working on triple supporting every research decision had provided all the weaponry I needed: I was well prepared to fight any challenge.

And I have since found that innovativeness, even for the junior scholar, has its benefits. Following on from the PhD, I developed an article around my novel methodological approach, which was submitted to the Academy of International Business Conference in London. I refer to this paper as my ‘ugly little duck’:  no one had a good thing to say about it. My confidence in the paper had reached rock-bottom and the rather positive reactions following my presentation at the Conference were not enough to change my decision of shelving the paper for a few years – until I was more experienced. What happened at the gala dinner that same night completely changed my mind: my paper won the Emerald Research Award for Best Paper in an innovative and under-researched area. My ugly duck had suddenly turned into a beautiful swan! This may be the answer to my question around ‘innovativeness’ in academic research for the junior scholar. Yes, you can! Whilst it comes at a price (a lot more work, a lot more doubt, a lot more challenge), it can also bring amazing rewards. From my perspective however, this was never really a choice: the research question itself had led me to the road less travelled.

Picture by cchana under CC license.