01 Nov 2017

Postdocs and PhD students learning café in October, 2017

RECLAS post docs and PhD students held a learning café with the Scientific Expert Group during their first visit to Jyväskylä in October, 2016.
Research Collegium for Language in Changing Society (RECLAS) had a pleasure to organise meeting for its Scientific Expert Group (SEG), which visited Jyväskylä from Sunday 30 October to Tuesday 1 November 2016. Scientific Expert Group is a multidisciplinary group of top researchers and professionals from all over the world: Alastair Pennycook (University of Technology, Sydney), Li Wei (University College, London), François Grin (Université de Genevè), Luisa Martin Rojo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Susan Wright (Aarhus Universitet) and Suresh Canagarajah (Pennsylvania State University). Unfortunately, Suresh Canagarajah was unable to attend the meeting in Jyväskylä.
In Jyväskylä, Scientific Expert Group had several meetings and activities with different groups of RECLAS and University of Jyväskylä Language Campus’ researchers. As one part, a group of postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students at RECLAS organised a learning café for the SEG members, postdocs and PhD students on 31 October 2016. The goal was to discuss the position of postdocs and doctoral students in ‘renewing the discipline’ with the SEG members such that all participants could exchange ideas and opinions. The participants had five questions to answer, and solutions were searched in small groups. The questions concerned the postdoc period, theory-praxis interaction, ongoing changes inside academia, and different environments’ demands and expectations from (critical) applied linguistics. Present and future opportunities, but also demands and changes were also discussed.
At the moment, different environments set several demands for (critical) applied linguistics, and the ongoing processes of superdiversity and globalisation are challenging the situation inside academia, too. Dominance of monolingualism and reproduction of social inequalities through language should be reduced. These kinds of challenges are pushing participants to become better teachers and applied linguists, and e.g. to improve the area of language teaching and learning in many ways. There are several themes, like migration, linguistic diversity and inequalities in different contexts, which should be studied in Finnish society, but also globally.
Demands and expectations should be recognized to become a pioneer in the field of study in the future. Participants saw, that they should be both reactive and predictive, though the research cycle and funding system nowadays make it difficult. Boundaries should be broken for future opportunities: structures at the university are changing, which might enable new things in interdisciplinary work. Also new cooperation partners and fields of study could be discovered in 5–10 years.
One question was especially about aims for a postdoc period, and how achieving aims could be facilitated. PhD knowledge was seen as a good basis for a postdoc period, but a bridging system from PhD studies to a postdoc period should be strengthened. Networking and cooperation, publishing, and broadening the expertise in new research environments are ways to be noticed, and to develop the professional know-how as a postdoctoral researcher. After all, a postdoc period was seen as time to find research passion. Therefore, participants highlighted the importance of job security for the postdoc period, because project hopping prevents postdoctoral researchers from situating themselves in the field.
In the learning café, theory-praxis interaction was also reflected. From the point of view of applied linguistics, theory and praxis are tightly interwoven. Though, the gap between the academia and the society should be filled, and social significance of language should be understood by wider public. That’s why interaction with different stakeholders and actors, and co-production of knowledge were seen as important. Nevertheless, informing about the research results for wider public, e.g., for politicians and teachers, might be difficult. A different valuation between investing in scientific publications and disseminating your research results in society was seen problematic.
After all, the academic environment is reshaping worldwide, and the branding initiative RECLAS is also about the will to change, challenge, and renew the present field of study. However, changes might have also some negative sides: participants mentioned, for example, competitiveness, pressure for innovation and economic value, and a danger of narrowing ideas. That is why, participants welcomed critical insights towards developments. Nevertheless, field of applied language studies is discovered to be a strong one, and thus it gives strength to be critical, and to produce networks, cooperation, and new discourses to be reactive to changes and facilitate these in future.  

About the author

Erja Kyckling

University of Jyväskylä