Doing research is not always an easy task. As researchers, we often face dilemmas. The choices we make influence the results of our studies. While we work, we learn. Because we believe in the importance of transparency and vulnerability, and the opportunity to share lessons learned with others, this blog aims to share our personal reflections on the research purpose.
17 January 2023 - By Marieke Hopman
Lately I have been thinking about the final phase of the Invisible Children research project, which we plan to finish by February 2024. Not only am I thinking about the project – looking back and looking ahead – I am also thinking about what my next step will be, for me personally as well as for the Children’s Rights Research platform.
Recently, I found myself reading some old blogs. I noticed that I used to be very personal when I wrote, really taking readers along on the journey, both its ups and downs. See, for example, the blog series on my PhD research ‘Looking at law through children’s eyes’. A lot has happened since my PhD research. As you may know, I obtained funding to start the Invisible Children research project during my PhD studies. I started managing this almost €800,000 project before I even defended my thesis in April 2019. A few things ‘interrupted’ this research project: a global pandemic, and the arrival of my two children (now one and three years old). Looking back, although I managed to keep the project afloat, and my kids alive, I feel that I lost something in the process. I do not start my blogs with “dear all” anymore. I no longer share the research process as much – not its struggles, nor its successes. I am not as transparent as I used to be. For example, I haven’t published a budget overview for a long time, as I did in 2017. What changed?
A different situation
Today, my personal circumstances are quite different from back in 2017. I used to be a PhD student with no idea whether I would be able to obtain funding for the entire PhD period, let alone what I would do afterwards. Currently, I have a position as an assistant professor, and a permanent contract (thank you for negotiating, collective labour organisation!). More importantly, instead of working solo, I now manage a team of around 35 employees and 10 volunteer students.
My work environment has also changed. As a researcher, I am under much more scrutiny today than I used to be. This scrutiny comes mostly from within my institution (the university), but also from the outside. Partially, it is the consequence of what seems to be a global trend for universities to become more careful to avoid legal responsibility (otherwise known as CYA [Cover Your Arse] policy). For example, in 2016 I was able to travel to war-torn Central African Republic without any discussion at the university. However, these days, if I want to travel to a risk area, I have to get several special permissions from different levels of leadership. I suspect that this policy change is the consequence of the increased scrutiny academic institutions are under. Students are increasingly critical of everything happening at the university than before (e.g., the ‘cancel culture’, ethics committees have become stricter and new European Union regulations strictly prescribe the handling of research data.
All this has a major impact on my work. I spend a large portion of my time not actually doing research, but on administrative processes (payments, contracts, meetings, data protection, etc.). What’s more, when I think about sharing something vulnerable, for example sharing an overview of our financial situation, my first thought is: “would this be allowed?”. And, even if it is, whether sharing it might have a negative impact on my faculty’s leadership, our funder (NWO – Dutch Research Council), and my colleagues of the Invisible Children project.
When I learned that we had received the funding for the Invisible Children Research Project
To transparency, vulnerability, and beyond!
However, reading back old blogs reminded me of my old self. Of when transparency and vulnerability were core values when doing research. I still believe in these values. Perhaps being transparent and vulnerable is even more important today, now that I am in a (slightly) more senior position, and now that I serve as an example to more junior academic colleagues (including students). In times where CYA policies are rampant, perhaps transparency and vulnerability are exactly what academia needs. Therefore, I hereby pledge to start sharing regular research updates in a more personal, transparent, and vulnerable manner again. Stay tuned!