Taking pride in what we do as scholars

With the grave implications of the Republican tax bill for graduate students and freedom of speech on campus under fire, it’s easy to get down on what it means to be a scholar today. That being said, the editorial in the August issue of the Academy of Management Journal (AMJ) provides some much-needed inspiration.

Markus Baer and Jason Shaw’s editorial “From the Editors – Falling in Love Again with What We Do: Academic Craftsmanship in the Management Sciences” is a cogent reminder to take pride in what we do as scholars. For those of you who don’t get the AMJ tome every two months, here are some highlights:

The authors think of scholarship as a craft and introduce the concept of “academic craftsmanship”:

We define ‘academic craftsmanship’ in the management sciences as the noble and socially responsible pursuit of perfection in creating new understandings about the world of organizations (p. 1214).

From this idea of academic craftsmanship, three important exhortations emerge.

1. Foster intrinsic motivation for what we do.

A research question that causes us to fall in love with our work is one that (a) needs answering (i.e. answering the question resolves existing inconsistencies in our understanding of a particular problem); (b) is worth answering (i.e. answering the question contributes to community or societal welfare); and (c) is personally meaningful so that we are willing to dedicate a significant portion of our lives to answering it, feeling excited while doing so (p. 1214).

How often do we fall into traps of researching what we think we should research to accomplish any number of extrinsic ambitions instead of following what we feel needs answering and is worth answering? The authors warn us how easy it is to be sidetracked by projects because a data source has become available or a new collaboration has emerged. But even the most thoughtful research agenda is fruitless if we don’t…

2. Take pride in our craft and work towards perfection.

Being an academic craftsman implies that we execute our work with the utmost care, striving for perfection every time… By dedicating ourselves to perfection, we develop a sense of psychological ownership of that which we are trying to understand (p. 1215).

I’ve heard seasoned scholars and journal editors forlornly describe the inordinate amount of low quality scholarly papers that cross their desks. No doubt this is partially the result of increased pressures to publish, but the authors of this editorial call us to take pride in our work and seek perfection in what we write. This is what academic craftsmanship is all about. The way we can do this is to…

3. Be rigorous and relevant.

Much time and attention has been paid to the rigor versus relevance debate in academic research. From our view, this debate is specious; the relevance of our contributions to society is inherently intertwined with our rigor (p. 1216).

Rigorous research should and must be connected to relevance to the social good. “A community of craftsmen should engender the best returns to society” (p. 1216). The authors warn that scholars should avoid the trending practice of dressing up existing concepts in new terminology. They call these terms “facade words” – neologisms that mask redundancies in the literature.

Maria Cseh and I have done research on this regarding all the various terms used to describe what it means to live and work effectively across cultures. The table below shows these terms alongside their number of scholarly journal articles found searching over 2 billion records using Summon by Proquest. This is not to say there aren’t meaningful differences in these terms. There are. But flooding the literature with comparable terms “makes it impossible for knowledge accumulation to occur” (p. 1216).

Term/Construct Total Scholarly Articles
Cosmopolitanism 27686
Cultural Competence 22050
Global Citizenship 5573
Intercultural Competence 3850
Multicultural Competence 2073
Cross-cultural Competence 2041
Cultural Intelligence 1817
Intercultural Sensitivity 1551
Global Mindset 1279
Global Competence 974
Cultural Mindset 713
Intercultural Effectiveness 448
World-Mindedness 418
Transcultural Competence 295
Cross-cultural Adaptability 246
Cross-cultural Intelligence 41
Multicultural Mindset 22
Intercultural Readiness 20
Cross-cultural Social Intelligence 17
Cross-cultural Mindset 3

If scholars want to make meaningful contributions to academic literature, the authors of this editorial remind us, “there are no shortcuts” (p. 1216). It takes thoughtful consideration of research questions, a commitment to work towards perfection, and  dedication to rigor and relevance.

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