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.’
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.