Doing Research about Education

By Geoffrey Walford | Go to book overview

11

The Director's Tale: Developing Teams and Themes in a Research Centre

Robert G. Burgess

I should not have entered the world of research contacts with such naivety. Despite that nearly all my previous work had consisted of investigation in person, or sometimes supervision of the individual work of students, I should not have underestimated the extent to which this was a different world, a world in which my perception of academic research and the management of scholarship would need realignment. (Wakeford, 1984, pp. 131-2)

These opening remarks are drawn from an autobiographical statement written by John Wakeford over 10 years ago about the management of team-based social research. His comments echo my own experience, not only in managing a research team, but also in establishing a range of teams in a research centre. For most researchers in the social sciences the conduct of social research focuses on the work of the lone scholar. This is epitomized in our experience of working on a doctoral thesis where the student works alone with a supervisor and is often engaged in small-scale empirical studies. Certainly, this was my experience in the 1970s. Subsequently, academics engaged in empirical social research often continue to conduct their studies themselves. Indeed this was my own experience in the 1980s when I decided to engage in a re-study of the school that I had initially studied in the 1970s (Burgess, 1987). In addition, I had also developed a research team, composed of one researcher and one secretary, who worked with me on a project concerning the mentally handicapped in residential homes (Candappa and Burgess, 1989). This was my only experience of team-based research in 15 years.

The opportunity to establish a research centre in the 1980s gave me the chance to think about a number of issues in the social sciences which I had not encountered before. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to develop major strands of social research that would take up a series of intellectual challenges and intellectual problems that I had begun to think about. However, I needed a range of projects to engage in such work. The consequence of taking the opportunity to develop a research centre was that I automatically became involved in a world of sponsorship and research grants, the development of teams of researchers and research careers, and fundamentally, the development of a series of substantive and methodological interests that could be explored across a range of research projects. But how was all this to be developed and to what

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