Women heading research projects in the Canadian academy talk about their work
Conducting research, especially with external funding, has become an expanded and intensified responsibility for academics in the past few decades, along with heightened expectations for accountability and productivity. Academics heading research projects have heavy responsibilities but are often overlooked in discussions of leadership in higher education.
This presentation is based on data gathered as part of a multi-year project entitled Academic researchers in challenging times, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (see arictproject.com). The project’s overall aim is to explore the social production of research in the province of Ontario, Canada. Over several years we have analyzed relevant policy documents and interviewed research administrators. In 2019–2020 we conducted 27 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with academics in education, geography, social work, and sociology in a varied selection of universities. Participants were selected based on their substantial records of receiving external funding and their engagement with social justice research topics.
For various reasons, most of the academic participants (24) were women. The study allowed us to move beyond conventional understandings of university leadership based on hierarchical structures, including the many discussions of 'the missing women at the top', and to consider alternative forms of leadership such as being a principal investigator for a research project. Not all of the women regarded themselves as leaders, often preferring other conceptualizations such as coach or 'the most responsible person'. Results suggest a tension between expressions of leadership that are consistent with the logistics of neoliberal individualism and approaches that stress collaboration, community, and caring.
Sandra Acker is Professor Emerita in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, Canada. Her research interests lie in changes in academic work, the social production of academic research, gender and academe, women academics in leadership positions, experiences of doctoral students, and university tenure and other evaluative practices. She has published widely on gender and education, teachers' work and higher education.
Anne Wagner is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work, Nipissing University, Ontario, Canada. Her research interests include critical approaches to higher education, neo-liberalism in academia and critical pedagogies, with a particular interest in how identity influences learning in the classroom. Anne's interests also encompass social work practice and she is currently involved in a project exploring the value of a peer support model for women in rural areas who have experienced sexual violence.
Sandra and Anne are colleagues on the project Academic Researchers in Challenging Times (arictproject.com), together with Caitlin Campisi, Pushpa Hamal, Michelle K. McGinn and Marie Vander Kloet.