Sunday, 27 November 2011

On reflection...

I should has started this blog when I registered for the PhD but in the absence of the great 'arountoit', the time has never been quite right - that is - until now. I am a p/t student with a f/t job in a reasonably large 1992 university in the UK. The university, like many at the moment, is in a period of transition and like me is reflecting on the past whilst trying to predict and prepare for the future. When I started my research the aim was to explore the organisational infrastructures required to support 3rd mission knowledge transfer. I was intrigued and unrelentingly curious about the notion of 'knowledge tranfer' being an activity in its own right.  Although this fascination has remained, the focus of my research is now on the ‘who’ rather than the ‘what’. It seeks to explore the concept of the Knowledge Transfer (KT) professional, how they construct their identities and how they add value to the academy in their role in the exploitation of knowledge.

 My research is based on the assumption that knowledge has an intrinsic market value (whether this be student, community, business or political markets) and is a product that can be packaged, exchanged, modified and distributed. This is a stance which causes me considerable unease as I watch the relationship between 'business' and higher education strengthen....

So what is the subject of my first blog? Well it is a short reflection on the language of knowledge transfer...

 A couple of weeks ago I had my upgrade interview and in the middle of the discussions, I had an epiphany - apart from my supervisor and I, neither of the examiners could relate to the language and terminology I was using to describe the subject of my research.  Whilst terms and acronyms simply rolled off my tongue with a fluidity that even shocked me (deals, spin-outs, stage-gating, KT touch points, tech transfer etc...) - there was a real 'venus & mars' situation and an interpreter was required.  

Once the upgrade was over I reflected on this experience and a thought occurred to me, the institution where I am registered for my PhD does not have a comprehensive university offering, it is specialises in education and social sciences. Therefore, the opportunities for academics to be involved with or aware of the techniques surrounding the commercialisation of research outputs is limited. I had incorrectly assumed that after a decade of 3rd mission funding, the sector was fully conversant with the language of this world. This experience has caused me to examine my practice of the art of KT:

  1. When I am at work, am I speaking a different language to the communities I am there to support? Just how full of jargon am I?
  2. Do I use a secret language to exercise power and control, to protect boundaries, to distance myself  or a combination of all?
  3. If I do not speak the language of education and research, what language do I speak? Am I speaking the native language of Celia Whitchurch's the 3rd space?
I think I need to pull together a glossary of terms.... and then probably get hold of a Babel fish


  1. Sounds interesting (came here via #phdchat post)! I started my academic blog a couple of days ago too :)

    Just a quick stylistic thing, maybe I'm just getting old but the font in your post is tiny and I struggled a bit with that.

    All the best with your research!


  2. Nice one!

    I guess the problem of jargon is there whatever our context and discipline. On the one hand we are expected to become fluent in some variant of academese, which may or may not be understood by speaker of other dialects of academese, and on the other, we want to produce work which is accessible and engages with our public. I'm not sure if there are any easy answers, and I'm sure I use more academic speak than I realise - and domain specific jargon too - but I do sometimes feel the need for a dose of plain English!
    I would be interested in seeing future blogs explaining what is meant by 'knowledge transfer' and how this relates to other forms of learning and knowledge acquisition, both inside and outside academia.

  3. Thanks for the font size change! :)

    I agree, and I saw Anna Tarrant's blog recently also touched upon her use of jargon with a non-academic audience. So it looks like you've started with a zeitgeist-y post!

    I'd like to hear an idiot's guide to KT, the term is ubiquitous but the meaning is a bit harder to grasp (or maybe that's just me).

  4. Hi Debbie

    This is something I am trying to get my head around too. I have spoken to various KT bods in the Uni I work in and have difficulty understanding what they are saying. I would love a copy of your Glossary when you produce it!
    Best wishes, Barbara Steel