Tag Archives: Scholarship

Thriving at different stages of an academic career

Professor Morten Huse discussed making an impact at different stages in the scholarly life cycle in his second talk for Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

On Tuesday 15 March, Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics was delighted to welcome back Professor Morten Huse for the second talk in a series discussing ‘How to become and thrive as an impactful scholar.’

The series, organised and chaired by Dr Muthu De Silva, Assistant Dean (Research), aims to develop Birkbeck’s scholarly community and to support academic colleagues in their research endeavours. The second talk, ‘Thriving at different stages of an academic career’ draws on insights from chapter 9 of Morten’s book ‘Resolving the crisis in research by changing the game’.

Morten encouraged attendees to consider their academic career as a life cycle, reflecting on his own experience of being affiliated with many different universities and the lessons learned along the way. He reflected on some key philosophies that have guided his academic career:

  • ‘Ritorno al passato’ – the need to reconsider the modern approach to scholarship.
  • ‘From POP (publish or perish) culture to a sharing philosophy’.
  • ‘Life is too short to drink bad wine’ – we don’t have unlimited time, so it is important to prioritise what matters most.

What is true scholarship?

Morten commented: “It is easy to think that we are measuring scholarship by publications,” arguing that, as early as the 1990s, academics were already feeling pressurised to publish in certain journals. This has resulted in ‘hammer and lamp syndrome’, where scholars address problems that are already under the lamp, i.e., where data is already available, instead of seeking out difficult problems, as this is an easier route to getting published. Similarly, Morten explained: “If you have a hammer, you see the world as a nail and will look for the easiest way to getting published.”

Reflecting on Boyer (1996), Morten argued that scholarship is not what scholars do, but who they are. When aiming for excellence in research, the goal should reach beyond getting published to thinking about the impact research is having. According to the European Research Council, excellence in research involves:

  • Proposing and conducting groundbreaking and frontier research
  • Creative and independent thinking
  • Achievements beyond the state of the art
  • Innovation potential
  • Sound leadership in training and advancing young scientists
  • Second and third order impact.

Defining your scholarly ambition

Morten noted that academic careers can look different for everyone and that scholarly ambitions are personal and will vary. Career paths can take a teaching, administrative or research route and reach could vary from local, national, to global.

Morten reflected: “It’s easy not to do the proper reflections, integrations and scholarly enquiry. It’s easy not to make a contribution to developing the scholarly community. It’s easy not to give priority to doing something for society. In reality, the scholarly life cycle is not just about getting published; there is so much more that is needed.”

He shared an image of what the scholarly life cycle could look like, enabling senior scholars to give back to junior colleagues:

Graph showing the different stages of an academic career.

We would like to thank Professor Huse for a thought-provoking presentation and discussion. The next event in this series will take place in May, where we hope to have the opportunity to bring our community together in person. Details to follow soon on the Department of Management events page.

Further Information


How to become and thrive as an impactful scholar 

Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics welcomed Professor Morten Huse for the first in a series of talks on how to conduct rigorous, impactful research.

At a time when academics face increasing and competing demands on their time, how can researchers ensure that they are conducting theoretically rigorous and practically impactful research? 

On Monday 15 November, the School of Business, Economics and Informatics welcomed Professor Morten HuseProfessor Emeritus at BI Norwegian Business School (Oslo) to deliver the first in a series of talks entitled ‘How to become and thrive as an impactful scholar’. The talks draw on reflections from Morten’s award-winning book: ‘Resolving the Crisis in Research by Changing the Game’. 

The session was chaired by Dr Muthu De Silva, Assistant Dean (Research) in the School, who welcomed Professor Huse and colleagues to the event. 

Morten began by sharing his motivations for writing the book that forms the basis of this series, which he described as an “introspective journey”. The book began as part of an ERC Advanced Research Grant Application exploring a sharing philosophy in academia and the concept of engaged scholarship. 

Morten introduced the idea of a “scholarly ecosystem”; a holistic view of academia that encompasses the institution, the community, its audience, messages and communication channels. In particular, he highlighted the importance of the community and transferring from a “publish or perish culture into true scholarship”. 

The key elements in the sharing philosophy are:  

  • Caring for each other 
  • Open innovation 
  • Impact driven 
  • “Life is too short to drink bad wine” 

Open innovation 

Morten argued that open innovation is a holistic process, in which individuals’ scholarly lives cannot be separated from their private identity. It is about the integration of head, heart and hands. 

He explained: “I think we all agree that scholarship goes beyond learning the tricks of the trade. Still, I’m seeing that the most popular sessions in conferences are about how to learn to publish, how to learn the tricks of the trade, more than really getting into the research.” 

Reflecting on his experience at Witten/Herdecke University from Chapter 7 of the book, Morten discussed the importance of open dialogue and contributions from across the academic community to create a communal experience. 

During his time at Witten, Morten began to define himself as a mentor and to use a policy of “starting with the heart”, discovering that the head and the hands would soon follow. 

An impact-driven approach 

Morten shared some examples from Chapter 8 of his book to show the importance of an impact-driven approach. 

Referencing his work on the ‘getting women on boards’ research agenda during the 1980s and 1990s, he explained: “We wanted to be open and share, in that way learning so much more than when we were just protecting things for our own credit. We could risk that somebody worked faster than us in publishing and getting credit: what mattered was that the important things were understood. In that period, we were not afraid of sharing with each other what we were doing, because we were learning so much more and so much faster. “ 

Polymorphic research 

Morten defines polymorphic research as “alternative ways of thinking and doing research.” This involves avoiding formulaic methods as shortcuts to publication and instead pursuing impactful research by challenging assumptions, methods, interpretations and how research is communicated beyond publications to make a change in business and society. 

An example of this type of research is the ‘champagne method’: action research featuring interaction and co-creation between the actor and the researcher. The champagne method involves a holistic approach and requires trust, positive energy and continuous reflection. It represents the integration of research, teaching and action. 

“Life is too short to drink bad wine” 

Throughout the event, the talk returned to the catchphrase “Life is too short to drink bad wine”, which embodies Morten’s philosophy that researchers should spend their time on the projects that will be truly meaningful, with colleagues who share their passion. How to achieve this type of research and the scholarly journey will be explored in-depth in upcoming sessions in this series. 

The presentation was followed by discussion from delegates, which further explored the impact of individualistic vs communal cultures and how to scale-up an open innovation and communal approach. 

Places on session two of this series on thriving in different stages of an academic career are available to book now. 


Meet the Kit de Waal scholar: Stephen Morrison-Burke

This post was contributed by Andrew Youngson, media and publicity officer in Birkbeck External Relations.

During Arts Week, former Birmingham poet laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke, was announced as the inaugural recipient of the Kit de Waal scholarship – a creative writing scholarship specially designed for budding writers who would not otherwise be able to afford a Master’s degree.

Stephen Morrison-Burke

Stephen Morrison-Burke

A few years ago, Stephen’s motivation to write poetry began to give way to a new writing urge: to write prose. The result is his debut novel, The Purple Sun – a semi-biographical tale inspired by his father’s experiences leaving his Jamaican homeland in the 1970s to begin a new life in the UK. This month, Stephen finished the final draft, an 90,000-word manuscript, which follows two-and-a-half years of writing, primarily in the very early mornings. (For the full story, read the news article here)

At the Arts Week event – the Creative Writing Alumni showcase – Stephen offered his thanks for the opportunity to undertake the MA Creative Writing (part-time) programme over the next two years, then delivered a rousing rendition of a poem of his, called Wishlist.

Here, Stephen talks about the scholarship opportunity, and his relationship with writing.

Hi Stephen. Why did you decide to apply for the Kit de Waal scholarship?

“When you are essentially teaching yourself, there’s a lot you don’t learn about the theoretical elements, such as structure, plot, pace and character development, so I thought the opportunity to go through that with professionals in their fields was something I didn’t want to pass up.”

How did you feel when you were interviewed to interview for the scholarship?

“Instantly I was overjoyed. It was a very tough time for me, and it can be pretty lonely writing by yourself. So when I got that through I can’t remember feeling as relieved as that in a long time. It wasn’t necessarily that I thought I could win, it was just more that I saw an opportunity to showcase what I had been working on for so long.

Why did you decide to write a novel?

“I had no intention of writing a novel, that’s the honest truth. It sounds mad, but I just had these gut feelings that wouldn’t go. And when I started to write, I just felt better, like I was finally doing what I was supposed to be doing. I felt relieved. But it’s strange that at the exact same time as I got these feelings, the poetry stopped.

“I had had my busiest month ever in poetry – I had met the Queen, I had travelled round the country, I’d written and performed a poem for Prince William – but come New Years Eve 2013, everything just stopped, and this novel took priority. Since then, I’ve done bits and pieces with poetry, but really I’ve just focused on this novel.”

Stephen Morrison-Burke performing poetry

Stephen Morrison-Burke performing poetry

Poetry vs prose

“Although they are similar, I have to treat them very different. I have to respect the art form of writing novels. Strangely enough, my poetry is mostly storytelling anyway.”

Why do you choose to write at 4am?

“I’m a nightmare. If the sun’s out, I always end up procrastinating looking at my phone or on the internet. If it’s dark, there’s nothing else I can do, so there’s no other choice but to write.”

Do you get writer’s block?

 “I don’t believe in writer’s block. I always believe I can write something, even if it’s nonsense, or just a short poem or something to plug the gap. But the writing is a slog, it’s hard work. There are no two ways about it. I thought it would be easier than it’s been, but I chip away at it one day at a time, one sentence at a time, one word at a time. I just turn up and make sure I’m writing something.”

Why does writing make you feel better?

“I felt like there was a lot I had to say that I wasn’t saying. There was a lot to get off my chest. I’m quite quiet and introverted, so by not getting it out it felt like it was building up. So when I was writing it was cathartic.

“From the things I had learned and experienced living in a tough part of Birmingham, to then boxing for 10 years of my life, to then all this poetry, there was a lot I wanted to say. I just wasn’t saying anything about that, so it was a relief to write it down. I thought I would only write one book and it would all come out in one go, but now that I’ve written one, I feel I could write another ten.”

How has your style developed over time?

“It’s certainly developed. It’s been a mirror of who I am as a person. I started off a little pretentious maybe, trying to impress. And certainly the poetic influence can make you embellish the writing. But the more I went along, and the more I read the likes of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Amy Hempel, the more I realised it can be straight to the point and not too airy fairy. It’s about trying to see things different to how everybody else does, which is why I’m so fascinated with the perspectives of children.”

What can you say about the background to your novel?

“It’s loosely based on a true story – my dad’s. My dad and I have been working on this together since Day One. He’s the one that said ‘you can do something with this, it’s going to be special’. He would always gee me up and gave me the motivation to see it through. It was just me on my computer, and he gave me the motivation to do something.”

(l-r) Kit de Waal, Stephen Morrison-Burke, MA Creative Writing director Julia Bell

(l-r) Kit de Waal, Stephen Morrison-Burke, MA Creative Writing director Julia Bell

The latter half of the book deals with violence. What can you say about that?

“That topic is not something my Dad would go into. That’s where I had to go into my own feelings. This is where I related back to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and started to be creative. It’s not just violence for violence’s sake. I wanted to understand the mind behind violence, and what would drive someone who’s intelligent to turn to that life.”

Does your poetry background influence your prose writing?

“I feel I’m able to draw on it. I focus on the form of novels and sometimes the poetry will come through. For instance sometimes words come out in rhyme. I have to stop myself, but then at times I find it creates a good rhythm to the sentence when two words rhyme. So I would be very careful and selective about how I use poetry. But there is a very thin line between the two, if a line at all. So I let them wrestle between themselves.”

How does it feel when you are in the writing flow?

“Being in the flow is very rare for me, to be honest. I’d compare writing to how I imagine riding rodeo would feel like. You have to hold on as tight as you can until it throws you off, and that’s the end of your day, when you run out of juice. It could be three hours, or one or seven. You just hold on as tight as you can and afterwards you wait for the next day to come round.”

How did you find the interview for the scholarship with Julia Bell and Kit de Waal

“They gave me a lot of encouragement, the fact that I had got that far. On the day I said to them it was great to hear that I was on the right track with my writing. They said it was brilliant, which was actually the first feedback I had had on the writing. I was so happy to hear that.”

What do you want to get out of the MA Creative Writing programme?

“If I’m honest, I came into this wanting to make some kind of living through writing books. But I don’t put any pressure on the course to deliver that for me. My goal is to make a living out of writing and I know the course will help me, to say the least.”

“I really want to contextualise books. When I read them, there’s no context beyond reading the introduction, so for the lecturers to paint a picture of the times the books were written, and to talk about what was going on at social and political levels, will be really useful. As it is right now, I read a book from first chapter to the last, but with little understanding outside of the words I’ve read. So it will be great to sit down with a professional to discuss the whys and hows.”

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