Researchers’ Roles: Studies and Recommendations

Categories: Focus Series, Instruction, Other, Research, Research Roles, Research Skills

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The focus for January is on researchers’ roles, including characteristics and skills critical to success. Read the whole series here.

Research roles go beyond designing and conducting
the study.

Researchers work within numerous disciplines and use varied methodologies and methods to study problems large and small. While there are many considerations for our specific fields of study, we also have common responsibilities when we take the role of researcher. Here is a cross-disciplinary collection of open access journal articles that discuss roles researchers take, or ways to improve practice in those roles.


Collins, C. S., & Cooper, J. E. (2014).Emotional Intelligence and the Qualitative Researcher.International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 88–103. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940691401300134

Abstract. In this conceptual article, we explore the idea of refining the role of the researcher. Using emotional intelligence as a framework, we synthesize methodological writing about the role of the researcher and ways to enhance the connection between humans in qualitative research. Emotional intelligence can strengthen the ability to connect with participants, skillfully listen during the interview process, and more clearly understand the lifeworlds participants articulate.


Daigneault, P.-M. (2013). The Blind Men and the Elephant: A Metaphor to Illuminate the Role of Researchers and Reviewers in Social Science. Methodological Innovations Online, 8(2), 82–89. https://doi.org/10.4256/mio.2013.015

Abstract. There has recently been a tremendous growth in systematic literature review methods in social science, which may create confusion as to the role of researchers and reviewers. I argue that the tale of the Blind men and the elephants is a metaphor that illuminates the elusive nature of reality and the work of both primary researchers and various types of reviewers. The value of the metaphor is illustrated with a case drawn from the field of policy and program evaluation. Despite its limitations, this metaphor may lead social scientists to reflect upon the rigor of their literature review practices.


Farrell, C. C., Harrison, C., & Coburn, C. E. (2019). “What the Hell Is This, and Who the Hell Are You?” Role and Identity Negotiation in Research-Practice Partnerships. AERA Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858419849595

Abstract. In research-practice partnerships (RPPs), the line between researcher and practitioner can be blurred, and the roles for everyone involved may be unclear. Yet little is known about how these roles are negotiated and with what consequences for collaborative efforts. Guided by organizational theory, we share findings from a multiyear case study of one RPP, drawing on observations of partnership leadership meetings and interviews with school district leaders and partners. Role negotiation occurred in more than one third of leadership meetings, as evidenced by identity-referencing discourse. When roles were unclear, collaborative efforts stalled; once partners renegotiated their roles, it changed how they engaged in the work together. Several forces contributed to these dynamics, including the partner’s ambitious yet ambiguous identity and the introduction of new members to the group. This study offers implications for those engaged in partnership work and provides a foundation for future research regarding role negotiation in RPPs.


Galdas, P. (2016). Who Is Writing What? A Proposed Taxonomy of Roles and Responsibilities When Collaboratively Writing a Research Proposal. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406916684290

Introduction. Think back to when you were last listed as an author on a publication—what level of involvement did you have? Did you write a specific section that was asked of you by the lead author? Go through the manuscript with a fine toothcomb making changes that improved the clarity of the arguments? If you were lead author, did you write the initial draft? Receive contributions back from your collaborators that may not have entirely met your expectations?


Harvey, J. (2013). Footprints in the Field: Researcher Identity in Social Research. Methodological Innovations Online, 8(1), 86–98. https://doi.org/10.4256/mio.2013.0006

Abstract. This paper encourages researchers to consider their own identity to be of particular importance within any research project. Rather than seeing our own identities as being fully formed and therefore detached from a project, this paper suggests that we invest ourselves into research and acknowledge the impact we have on research. Investing ourselves into research, also involves considering our identities to be open to adaption. Consequently, an investigation of how our own identities can be influenced by the process of carrying out research is also discussed. It is suggested that this investment may open up endless possibilities for future research and practice. Notably, the process of self-investigation can result in transparent and ethical knowledge production. I use the example of my own research to highlight the advantages of remaining open to and embracing these opportunities for growth. Drawing on a poststructural conceptual framework, I critically explore some of the possibilities that a thorough interrogation of the self can create.


Helgesson, G., Eriksson, S. Responsibility for scientific misconduct in collaborative papers. Med Health Care and Philos 21, 423–430 (2018) doi:10.1007/s11019-017-9817-7

This paper concerns the responsibility of co-authors in cases of scientific misconduct. Arguments in research integrity guidelines and in the bioethics literature concerning authorship responsibilities are discussed. It is argued that it is unreasonable to claim that for every case where a research paper is found to be fraudulent, each author is morally responsible for all aspects of that paper, or that one particular author has such a responsibility. It is further argued that it is more constructive to specify what task responsibilities come with different roles in a project and describe what kinds of situations or events call for some kind of action, and what the appropriate actions might be.


Lapadat, J. C., Mothus, T. G., & Fisher, H. (2005). Role Relationships in Research: Noticing an Elephant. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690500400201

Abstract.
Using a collaborative writing process, three researchers reflect on their role relationships as researchers engaged together in a classroom study. Researcher role relationships are revealed to be complex, multifaceted, and implicated in every choice and act on a moment-by-moment basis in the classroom and in the processes of the research. Personal dilemmas of role choices and power differentials, including how the power shifted according to what they chose to value and who could influence the classroom drama, are some of the role relationship themes that emerged. The improvisation of researcher role is theorizing situated in praxis.


Christian Pohl, Stephan Rist, Anne Zimmermann, Patricia Fry, Ghana S Gurung, Flurina Schneider, Chinwe Ifejika Speranza, Boniface Kiteme, Sébastian Boillat, Elvira Serrano, Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn, Urs Wiesmann, Researchers’ roles in knowledge co-production: experience from sustainability research in Kenya, Switzerland, Bolivia and Nepal, Science and Public Policy, Volume 37, Issue 4, May 2010, Pages 267–281, https://doi.org/10.3152/030234210X496628

Abstract. Co-production of knowledge between academic and non-academic communities is a prerequisite for research aiming at more sustainable development paths. Sustainability researchers face three challenges in such co-production: (a) addressing power relations; (b) interrelating different perspectives on the issues at stake; and (c) promoting a previously negotiated orientation towards sustainable development. A systematic comparison of four sustainability research projects in Kenya (vulnerability to drought), Switzerland (soil protection), Bolivia and Nepal (conservation vs. development) shows how the researchers intuitively adopted three different roles to face these challenges: the roles of reflective scientist, intermediary, and facilitator of a joint learning process. From this systematized and iterative self-reflection on the roles that a researcher can assume in the indeterminate social space where knowledge is co-produced, we draw conclusions regarding training.



Xu, X., Schneider, M., DeSorbo-Quinn, A. L., King, A. C., Allegrante, J. P., & Nigg, C. R. (2017). Distance mentoring of health researchers: Three case studies across the career-development trajectory. Health Psychology Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102917734388

Abstract. Despite the crucial role of mentoring, little literature exists that addresses distance mentoring among health researchers. This article provides three case studies showcasing protégés at different stages of career development (one in graduate school, one as an early-stage researcher, and one as an established researcher). Each case study provides a brief history of the relationship, examines the benefits and challenges of working together at a distance, and discusses the lessons learned from both the mentor and the protégé over the course of these relationships. A mentoring model, examples of mentoring communications, and potential promising practices are also provided and discussed.


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