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Information in Transition : Examining the Information Behaviour of Academics as they Transition into University Careers

Willson, Rebekah (2016) Information in Transition : Examining the Information Behaviour of Academics as they Transition into University Careers. PhD thesis, Charles Sturt University.

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Abstract

Transitions are often times of upheaval. A transition, even when positive, may be disruptive as familiar contexts, supports, and resources change. While early career academics are highly trained and experienced, the transition from doctoral student to academic involves a series of new roles and responsibilities within a new information environment, an environment that has been influenced by neoliberal ideals and become increasingly corporatised and managerial in nature. Within information behaviour research there has been a lack of research that focuses specifically on periods of transition, particularly on individuals in transition over time. Additionally, while there is information behaviour research on academics, it does not address the experiences of academics as they start their careers. This research addresses those gaps. This research used constructivist grounded theory and critical discourse analysis as methodologies to explore the information behaviour of 20 individuals transitioning from doctoral students to academics in Australia and Canada. Academics in the humanities and social sciences, who had recently moved from full - time doctoral studies to full - time academic positions, were followed for a period of between five and seven months. To triangulate the data, three data sources were used: two in - depth interviews, multiple check - ins, and documents. Interviews were analysed using grounded theory analysis, documents using critical discourse analysis. Two theoretical frameworks were used to provide analytical lenses: neoliberalism and Transitions Theory. Several major themes emerged from this research that contribute to both information behaviour research and Transitions Theory. In looking at academics’ work, the number and variety of administrative and managerial tasks universities require academics to perform greatly increases their information needs. Administrative work becomes a layer over all academic work. However, universities frequently fail to provide the information academics require, leaving information needs unfulfilled. Because of this, early career academics frequently seek information from their more senior colleagues, rather than relying on textual sources. Senior colleagues provide timely, convenient, and comprehensive information. Physical proximity and the building of collegial relationships promote information sharing, informal information exchanges, and serendipitous information finding that is of great use to early career academics. Social information is instrumental for early career academics’ settling in to their new positions, as doctoral studies often fail to provide an accurate picture of academic life or to fully prepare students for research, teaching, service, and administrative roles. Comparing and contrasting previous experiences to their current experience is one way that early career academics use new information to learn new ways of working and develop a sense of belonging in academia. From these findings, the theory of Systemic Managerial Constraints (SMC) emerged. SMC views the managerialism that results from neoliberalism within universities as pervasive and constraining both what work early career academics do and how they do it. However, colleagues help to ameliorate the effects of SMC and early career academics learn, as they transition, to enact their personal agency to enable them to do the work that they value.