Academic identity development of engineering academics in the Australian engineering education community

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The field of research that an academic participates in is seen as central to the development of their academic identity. In the case of engineering academics that become engineering education researchers there are additional complications in reconciling this change with their academic identity. Part of the difficulty that engineering academics have with educational research paradigms is that they are so different to the typically positivistic perspective of most engineering epistemologies. A further complicating factor is that engineering education is an emerging research area in Australian universities and as such there are few formal training pathways into it and little consensus as to the standards and norms of practice. Yet engineering academics have and continue to make this transition - how they develop an academic identity in this research field is the focus of this study. The research approach is interpretive using the identity-trajectory as a theoretical framework because it pays attention to the context-specific characteristics of working as an academic. Interviews with a range of engineering academics about preparing a conference paper and their response to the peer review process illustrated how various aspects of their research work contribute to the development of the intellectual and networking strands of their academic identity, the effect of their university environment on this development, and included the ways that engineering academics interpret how their past experiences contribute to their present situation and/or their future intentions. By focussing on the individual, this conceptualisation of academic identity aligns with the common experience of engineering education researchers and with the premise that development of the field is a function of the development of the individual researchers within it. The engineering education research landscape model presented in this study was a successful stimulus for dialogue about the nature of the research field by allowing participants to identify where they belong on the landscape. Such discussions will help both the community and individuals to articulate and understand observed changed in their own and their peers’ research as expertise is developed, as well as provide a language for researchers to plan, discuss and evaluate this development. The continued importance of participation in engineering education conferences for the intellectual and networking strands of academic identity for members of this research community is apparent for researchers at all stages of development, although in different ways.
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