As someone who has always worked in ‘new and emerging disciplines’ it has been hard for me to articulate why a project is needed for ‘us’ in particular. I am very good at articulating the difficulties in emerging disciplines finding the boundaries of their research space, acceptable research paradigms, and a body of knowledge on which to build; but I am not very good at articulating how this differs from the ‘traditional’ disciplines as I don’t know what I’ve not experienced.

Help came to hand in the form of a colleague who had worked in a ‘Group of Eight’ University. He was reflecting how our university is ‘new’ to the research field and doesn’t have the traditional research culture and I asked him what that felt like. He provided the most wonderful metaphor that I paraphrase below.

When you travel in Europe, there is a history in the architecture of the cities that speaks volumes about how people used to live, how the city used to function, and why it functions today in the way that it does. You know that people have walked where you are walking before you, and that the cities have developed in the manner they have for a purpose.

When you come to Australia the architecture is relatively modern and the cities speak of utility. The architecture may be pleasing but the cities have been designed to be functional.

Traditional research areas emulate the European cities. They have a history to underpin then that can be drawn on for an explanation of why matters are as they are today, and how they have come to that state of affairs. Emerging areas do not have this. They are finding their way and creating a new history as they develop.

As such, the emerging areas lack a confidence that rests in a knowledge base that precedes it. They don’t have years of history to draw on to resolve questions or draw methodology from, and they don’t have the confidence that the path they are treading has been walked many times before.

This project, therefore, is trying to provide a resource base that allows supervisors in this territory to traverse it with the confidence that a history provides, by providing sources of information and ideas that history provides the traditional discipline areas, and offering a community in which a common language can be spoken and ideas shared.

My own experience of a variety of newer university and new, emerging disciplines, is that we all struggle with the same fundamental issues and we all think these are unique to us as we are unaware of the commonalities that occur. The traditional disciplines also share these issues and struggle with them, the difference is they have a wealth of history from which to draw solutions.

This project, therefore, hopes to offer a resource that gives confidence to new supervisors in emerging research areas by providing ideas for dealing with common issues that arise, and a forum in which to discuss thoughts, experiences and reflections as we build a history within our disciplines.

Professor Eddie Blass

A copy of the final report can be found here: Final Report

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