How do we solve the mystery of crossing the bridge from academia and scholarship to having passion and making a dent in the world? One arena in which that mystery is addressed in a conscious and deliberate fashion is in Transformative Consumer Research (TCR), something I have covered on this blog as well as in my book. As a number of us are preparing for our session at the Association of Consumer Research Conference - "Making a Difference in Different Ways: Unleashing the Power of Collaborative Research Teams to Enhance Consumer Well-being,” Ron Hill passed along something he called "A Day in the Life of a TCR Scholar." It tells his story of crossing the bridge and I think it gets to many key issues in solving the mystery. Ron graciously allowed me to publish it here.
I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of professionals and interested parties in homeless shelters, community action agencies, prisons, and other contexts that may benefit from our expertise and service. There are several lessons that I learned during these experiences that continue to serve me today. First, forget about your education, teaching, and resulting status within the academy; it likely serves you well in some environments but it might not do so in an impoverished neighborhood, juvenile delinquent lockdown facility, or maximum security prison. Thus, you need to enter the field with humility and openness to what you can do to serve their needs rather than assuming that they are there to help you advance your reputation in the field. Second, enter this environment with a “beginner’s mind” as if each experience was new and you were unable to use past memories to define what is happening in the present. If you do not, it is likely that your perceptions and values will be used to define the field in ways that do not fully capture the lives of the people you interact with over time.
Third, try to find a locally appropriate role to support your efforts, one that gives purpose to your presence and serves the community where you now reside. Sometimes your expertise or academic background, such as tutoring teenagers in a poor public school system, comes into play and is actually useful. Other times, like when they need a cook or server in a food kitchen, you may have to put aside your ego and realize that you are only capable of the most mundane tasks. Fourth, forget what you heard in graduate school about “objective” versus “subjective” research. Only the most hardened among us can enter environments like homeless shelters for women and children and not be moved. Instead, allow yourself the luxury of feeling deeply and experiencing completely the range of emotions associated with their lives. You will have much richer data and be able to tell a more compelling story. Some may believe you have become an advocate … so what? It is the price we pay for embracing the humanness of those we study.
Fourth, forget about your proposed schedule. Six months in the field, followed by three months of data analysis, followed by … You may have days, like I had recently, when you wait a full hour before you are allowed to proceed 100 feet, only to find that the men you came to see are in lockdown for a random search. In this particular case, it took over eighteen months to put the first paper together, and some of my time is still dedicated to them. Instead of interviews or other forms of “relevant” data collection, I have been asked by incarcerated men to help their spouses write a resume, their children navigate college entrance requirements, their former neighbors develop licit opportunities for young children to earn money, and their attorneys come up with new ways of seeking release. In the final analysis, it is not whether these investigations result in publication. Some will and some will not. It is about impacting lives, changing their courses for the better, and loving our neighbor. My motto has been “Changing the world one article at a time.” Come live the dream!
Ronald Paul Hill, Ph.D., is the Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Endowed Chairholder, Villanova School of Business. He has authored nearly 200 journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers on topics that include impoverished consumer behavior, marketing ethics, corporate social responsibility, and public policy. He was the Editor of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing until June 2012. His recent awards include: 2012 Williams-Qualls-Spratlen Multicultural Mentoring Award of Excellence, 2012 Villanova University Outstanding Faculty Research Award, and 2010 Pollay Prize for Excellence in the Study of Marketing in the Public Interest.
Thanks for sharing this with us Ron!