11 November 2015

Reflections of a second-career academic researcher

By Ong Liap Teck

To overcome the shortage of academics, business schools turn to industry to recruit professional executives and managers as academics to teach business subjects. I am one of those engaged by such an institution of higher learning. We are called second-career academics. However, our career transition from industry to academia is fraught with challenges. The need for me to address these challenges becomes an important impetus for my research. One of the challenges is to assume the role of second-career academic researcher.

My research looked into the experience of second-career academics in Malaysian business schools. Since it involves an inquiry into the lived experience of people, a combination of interpretive research and narrative inquiry has been adopted for this study. I have utilised my own experience as a second-career academic to gain insights into the topic. Concurrently, such approach involves a reflection on who I am as a second-career academic and a novice academic researcher.

I have benefited from the insights and experiences of second-career academics through the various perspectives and voices obtained through this research endeavour. It provided me with a new perspective into my own role as a second-career academic. For example, it deepened my appreciation of the prevailing collegiality in academia. At the same time, I have also been made aware of the possibility of the domination of managerialism over collegiality in academia. Such awareness has prompted me to be prepared psychologically and physiologically for the possible change in the mode of academic management and leadership.

Another insight which I attained from my research is the adaptability of business executives into the new discourse community and the zeal that they manifested in an earnest quest to be a full-fledged academics. For example, many of the participants took up the challenge to be actively involved in research and improvement of pedagogical skills and knowledge. Reflecting on this phenomenon, I believe this resonates with my impetus for my PhD research. My reflection revealed that career transition from industry to academia presents a new opportunity to do something good for the new discourse community, while at the same time offer the individual a chance to try something new and of interest. It is a process of self-discovery and self-actuation.

My study had revealed many positive experiences the participants enjoyed such as self-efficacy, the experience of calling, and the prevailing camaraderie. Their narratives reminded and prompted me to be appreciative of the new life that academia offers me. I became aware of the nobility and religiosity of my new role as an academic.

My study has also revealed the adverse experience of being a second-career academic. Through my reflection of these not-so-pleasant experiences, I began to be more accommodating and adaptable in order to thrive as an academic. My reflection on the adverse experience of fellow second-career academics would be the impetus for me to publish the results in suitable journals in the near future. The result of my study also reminds me that completion of my PhD endeavour is not the end, but rather, it is a beginning of a new chapter of my life with renewed mission and purpose.

Personally, through this research, I have gained insights into the meaning of being a second-career academic. Through the long process of collecting data from 31 participants, concurrent thematic analysis, and cyclic reflection and reconceptualisation, I became the 32nd participant of my research. The whole experience has been quite intense and self-transformational. It has occasioned a deep examination of my role and purpose in my present career, identification and readjustment of my core values, recognition of my weaknesses and strengths, and acknowledgment and appreciation of my experiences in life.

Ong Liap Teck is a lecturer with the Faculty of Business and Design at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He is currently pursuing a doctorate, focusing on the experience of second-career academics in Malaysian business schools. He is contactable at long@swinburne.edu.my