Academic leadership

Academic leadership or academic leader…. There are the two buzzwords that I have been hearing and reading about more often recently.  As Google N-Gram graph shows below, there is a growing trend in the use of ‘academic leadership’ and ‘academic leader’. Obviously, there is also an increasing trend for the use of ‘leadership’. According to Zenko, who researches foreign policy, “the call for leadership is typically one that is associated with a more confrontational and aggressive policy”. In this case, this raises the issue of whether the higher education sector is getting more aggressive due to its highly competitive nature.


Vitae, which is a non-profit researcher development organisation in the UK, describes itself as “‘the global leader’ in supporting the professional development of researchers, experienced in working with institutions as they strive for research excellence, innovation and impact”. Many organisations, including universities and Vitae, recommend that early career researchers should present themselves as ‘leaders’; however, ‘academic leadership’ and ‘academic leader’ in academia remain elusive concepts.

Academic leadership is often associated with formal leadership duties that are undertaken by senior academics. In the NOW corpus, for example, the top five adjective collocates of academic leadership are ‘senior’, ‘outstanding’, ‘distinguished’, ‘experienced’ and ‘accomplished’, which emphasise the state of being higher in status. Then, how can PhD students or early career researchers exercise leadership while we are at the bottom of the academic ladder? Over the winter break, I read about three information booklets or guidelines of leadership prepared by three different non-profit organisations (I count universities as non-profit organisations) in the UK for early career researchers. Surprisingly, advice given in these guidelines seems different. In particular, the priorities that researchers are advised to give or the top skills that the organisations recommend that researchers should have to develop their leadership are far from being the same. Based on the top 4000 most frequent words in each document, I used multidimensional scaling (an exploratory multivariate data analysis technique for visualising the level of similarity of the dataset) in R to explore similarity of these three guidelines (the wordcount of each guideline ranges from 19.000 to 22.000). As can be seen in the graph below, these documents, unexpectedly, do not seem to be very similar, although the document one and two show some similarity on one dimension.


A possible explanation for difference in these guidelines is that different leadership types can be valued by different organisations. I have read about the different leadership types, including intellectual leadership, innovative leadership and exemplary leadership, and I will try to summarize them below. Of course, for academic leadership, being an intellectual leader is crucial in planning our own research agenda and inspiring that of others. Having a PhD and writing research articles are one of the manifestations of intellectual leadership. Intellectual leadership also requires being clear-sighted about the direction our research field is taking.

Innovative leadership necessitates taking risks, implementing and evaluating new ideas in the organisation, and these ideas can be related to research, teaching, and public engagement. The disadvantage of innovative leadership is that people may not succeed in their endeavours each time they implement a creative idea. This semester, inspired by a very innovative lecturer at my university, I am exercising innovative leadership in that I am trying to use creative methods in my teaching, which will increase students’ engagement. As it is seen here, inspiration is key to developing leadership which would lead to a shared vision and encourage others to exercise leadership. This is relevant to another leadership style: exemplary leadership which entails dedication, collaborative ethos, empowerment and believing in capacity of people you are working with, and generosity with time. Exemplary leadership can be developed across different areas, including, academic service, research, teaching, and public engagement. In this sense, I have been lucky enough to have supervisors and get to know academics who serve as role models for me.


The final leadership style I will touch on this post is civic leadership which brings about having a positive ‘impact’ on and making a difference in the local community or society. This leadership includes public engagement, and it goes beyond that since a positive contribution to the society or community is required through public education, community service, and public scholarship. Actually, civic leadership is closely intertwined with intellectual leadership because it is expected that research studies make a change ‘beyond academia’.

There are many more leadership types than the abovementioned ones that can be embraced by academia. These leadership types are not mutually exclusive, and different universities may prioritise different leadership types, as my rough analysis suggests above. Therefore, PhD students and early career researchers need to develop their awareness of different leadership types rather than just receive a training on trait-based perspectives of leadership (leaders should be visionary, decisive, etc.). My action plan for academic leadership is that I will try to develop different leadership types through experimenting and learning from others so that I will be able to inspire others by showing exemplary leadership in the future.


Expectations of and on international students in UK HE: Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes

On 16th September, I and my colleague gave a talk at BAAL/Routledge Workshop ‘Expectations of and on international students in UK HE’ at Manchester Metropolitan University. The workshop was a very fruitful event which brought together researchers, professionals of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and international students. Our talk entitled ‘Internationalisation in UK higher education: Experiences of international PhD students’ drew on our own experiences of academic writing and intercultural communication with reference to internationalisation agenda of higher education. During my PhD journey, it was the first academic event in which I gave a presentation which was not directly related to my PhD (learner language), though I made some reference to my research and other relevant research studies.

I focused on the dynamics of my identity as an academic writer and my experiences of being a teaching assistant of Study Skills course which encompasses critical reading, identifying appropriate literature, and academic writing. Study Skills course is delivered to MA students in order to improve their academic reading and writing skills, and it is useful to provide shortcuts to the conventions of academic writing in English. However, the generic content of academic writing may not enable students to understand how they can present their arguments and contribute to the debate in their own specific disciplines and sub-disciplines. For instance, the way the arguments constructed in TESOL can be markedly different from those of educational technology. Admittedly, it is hard to design a discipline-specific study skills course, but there is room for improvement. Special corpora that would include journal articles and academic books in MA students’ specific disciplines can be used to improve students’ knowledge of linguistic choices, evaluation of the previous literature and argumentation. Additionally, students can be trained to create their own personalised corpus by using the virtual corpus functionality within the Brigham Young University’s collection of corpora.

The second point I made was the academic writing support provided to students. Though we are lucky to receive academic writing support at institutional level, the way it is framed should be changed. In its current format, academic writing support/tutorial service at many universities in the UK is generally available for students whose first language is not English. This makes the assumption that students whose first language is English would not struggle with academic writing, and/or that students from a non-English L1 background would have problems that should be ‘remedied’. In fact, corpus research shows that novice writers may share the same struggles in academic writing, regardless of their first language. Therefore, academic writing support at universities should be given to all students, as the labels ‘home’/‘L1-English speaking’ students and ‘international’/‘L2-English speaking’ students may divide ‘us’. Though there are changes to this approach, the change is slow, and it is remarkable that research in this area has informed the practices little in this area so far. As one of the discussants in the workshop noted, researchers may need to find more effective ways of reaching out to stakeholders in this area. 

calvin-and-hobbes_2During the workshop, there were similar talks and discussions on academic support given to students in UK higher education. Until the workshop, it was inconceivable for me to hear ‘EAP’ referred to as ‘industry’ followed by the rationalisation that ‘it is the reality.’ Although we cannot deny the ideological and economical underpinnings of EAP through which major publishing companies make profits in the Anglophone context, seeing EAP as ‘industry’ would benefit neither students nor educators. Instead, EAP can be framed as collective endeavour of students, educators and researchers. At the risk of romanticising, students’ progress in EAP would be of priceless value to both students and educators.

CorpusMOOC: The most brilliant MOOC I have completed!

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Corpus linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation’ was my third Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that I completed, but it was my first MOOC on the FutureLearn platform. While some educators may give up on MOOCs due to the low completion rates and little interaction among the participants, there is evidence that they are becoming much more internationalised and multilingual! I am always very optimistic about MOOCs, and I completely agree with Anant Agarwal on his view that MOOCs are making education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind, and bank account–blind.”

I enjoyed every minute of the CorpusMOOC because of its three most distinctive favourable features:

  • Continuous individualised guidance and feedback from the course team: I was amazed at how quickly the course team responded to our comments during the course. I remember that I got a response to my comment within just one hour!
  • High quality and rich content of the course: The course includes impressive wide range of videos, tasks, reading materials, discussions, in-conversation videos, quizzes and presentations in each week. I think it would not be possible to cover all these materials in the mainstream classes in just 8 weeks.
  • Comments from the course participants and course team: Comment sections were hidden treasures of new sources and inspirations! I learned many things from the participants who not only consumed, but also generated the content in the course. They shared quite a few articles, links, books and programmes that I bookmarked.

Although there was a lot of interaction between the course team and participants, it could have been more interaction among the course participants. This might be attributed to the features of the FutureLearn as we could not get any notifications when other participants or mentors liked our comments or replied to them. Also, we could not even see who liked our posts. One of the principles of the FutureLearn is to ‘create connections’ as it is stated on its website. I liked the easy-to-use and modern design of FutureLearn, but more interactive features are needed to enable us to ‘create connections’. For instance, a direct message function for the participants, rating system for the comments and social media sharing are the three features that would have improved my learning experience for this course to a great extent. Looking at its FAQ’s page, I realise that these will be added soon. Nevertheless, the principle of ‘create connections’ might be difficult to apply in the current courses at least in the beta version of FutureLearn.

I was not a complete beginner in corpus linguistics, so I cherished the flexibility of the course. Here are the three most useful gains of the corpusMOOC for me:

  • I definitely feel more confident to work with a POS-tagged corpus now. In the course, we used Corpus Query Process (CQPweb) and BNCweb, both of which have quite user-friendly interfaces. We also used AntConc to search in a corpus that had been tagged. Even though UCREL’s CLAWS POS Tagger is available to tag up to 100,000 words of English online, we need to buy a licence to tag large numbers of files. The good news is that Laurence Anthony is developing a free POS-tagger, and it will be available on his website soon!
  • I have become familiar with the semantic tagging which could be useful to group the words, conduct a research on metaphorical language and identify semantic preferences of the lexical items.
  • In-conversation videos, which were my favourite part of the course, gave me a wider perspective on the applications of corpus linguistics. I would not have imagined that corpus linguistics could be used for accounting and finance!

    I created this word cloud from my notes that I took during the course!

The CorpusMOOC, which has inspired me to pursue new research ideas, is the most brilliant MOOC that I have completed so far. For those who are interested in corpus linguistics, the course will be running again in September. Finally, I would like to thank Tony McEnery, educators and mentors of the course to offer us such a great MOOC!


Using a Frequency Dictionary to Learn a Foreign Language


It has been three and a half years since I completed my minor degree in German language. When I occasionally read Deutsche Welle in German, I feel that my vocabulary has deteriorated to a great extent. Therefore, I took up the challenge of brushing up on my German, which was also one of my new term’s resolutions. While I was looking for a resource in the University of Manchester Library, I came across the book called ‘A Frequency Dictionary of German: A Core Vocabulary for Learners’ in the high demand collection. I assume that the book is popular among the students even though it may not be used in German classes. I am also surprised that there are frequency dictionaries of many languages, including Polish, Spanish, Russian, French and Japanese. It is a pity that Turkish still does not have one, but it must be on the way as the compilation of Turkish National Corpus is fairly recent in comparison to other languages.

I studied the frequency dictionary for a week, and I can say that I have a very positive learning experience. It was a quick way for me to revise the most frequent 4034 words (not 4000!) in German language. The writers claim that the word count was not arbitrary, and it represents approximately 80 percent of the words in Leipzig/BYU Corpus of Contemporary German. Perhaps the best element of the book is formulaic language that is listed under the entries. For instance, the entry for the noun Sinn (meaning) also offers im Sinne (according to) and in diesem Sinne (in this spirit). Frequency dictionaries can also be beneficial for adult learners to prepare for the exams. I passed my German proficiency test four years ago by studying a frequency list that I created out of the past exam papers. Creating your own frequency list or downloading one from the internet is always a perfectly viable option for the corpus lovers!


There are also some shortcomings of using frequency dictionaries to master a foreign language. Learning through the book proved to be very efficient for me as I am an advanced learner of German. However, I am not convinced that the frequency dictionaries appeal to beginner or low-intermediate learners as they tend to need more input to contextualise the words. Frequency dictionaries usually provide learners with one example which might be ambiguous for polysemous words. Taking all these points into consideration, I recommend using a frequency dictionary as a supplementary tool to brush up on a foreign language. Even if one has not encountered a word that is included in the frequency dictionary, this may form the basis for a discovery experience.

I believe that a frequency dictionary has been of great utility for me to remember the words. Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that I can quickly forget them again. The key issue to maintain foreign language skills is to make the language an important part of our lives by constantly using it. Listening to German podcasts and reading news in German are the most straightforward steps that I will take as of today. Finally, I would love to gain insights into the experiences of other foreign language learners in using a frequency dictionary.