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

Rebekah Willson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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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.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Given, Lisa, Co-Supervisor
  • Lloyd, Annemaree, Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date20 May 2016
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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