• Conceptions of ‘research’ and their gendered impact on research activity: A UK case study

      Healey, Ruth L.; Davies, Chantal; University of Chester (Taylor and Francis, 2019-08-31)
      The last twenty years have seen an increased emphasis around the world on the quality and quantity of research in response to national research assessments, international league tables, and changes in government funding. The prevailing attitude in higher education embeds research as the ‘gold standard’ in the context of academic activity. However, a key feature of this trend is significant gender differences in research activity. We argue that research productivity is related to identification as a researcher, and that identifying as ‘research-active’ or not would appear to depend upon how an individual academic subjectively defines ‘research’. This article brings together two hitherto separate bodies of work 1) the impact of gender on academic research careers, and 2) academic conceptions of research. Through a combination of interviews, focus groups and questionnaires, we investigate the extent to which interpretations of ‘research’ and ‘research activity’ differ by gender within an institution in the UK and the potential impact of these interpretations. Although the research found that there are many similarities in the interpretations of ‘research activity’ between genders, we found one important difference between male and female participants’ conceptions of research and its relationship to teaching. Significantly, our findings suggest that there is a need to expand our existing conceptualisations of ‘research’ to include ‘research as scholarship’ in order to address the obstacles that current understanding of ‘research’ have placed on some academics. Self-definition as a researcher underlies research activity. A narrow conception of ‘research’ may prevent individuals from identifying as ‘research-active’ and therefore engaging with research.