Something occurred to me recently. Professions share common characteristics (Elliott 1972):
- Body of knowledge
- Barriers to entry
- Public service
- Mutual recognition
Thinking about being a professional architect, QS, engineer or whatever, it is straightforward to identify how these things work. But does this work for the profession of being an academic?
- Body of knowledge: This does not refer to the knowledge that you use in your construction profession. That is already dealt with there. The knowledge we need as academics are not simply the knowledge of construction activities. What do professional academics have in common? Writing, arguing, researching, analysing, concluding, making claims, testing ideas, introducing doubt and scepticism where there is apparent certainty.
- Barriers to entry: Just as you need a BSc to gain entry into a construction profession, you also need one to get into an academic profession. Indeed, one useful way to view a PhD is as an essential prerequisite for an academic career. It is not the only purpose, but it is an interesting way of thinking about what a PhD is for.
- Public service: Just as surveyors and engineers have ethical codes of conduct to put public interest above private profit, so academics are (generally) not focused on commercial returns.
- Mutual recognition: Being a member of a specific academic community through your research and writing brings acceptance into that sub-set. Being an academic in the wider sense involves recognising that other academic fields include people who share the same body of knowledge, barriers to entry and ethical conduct.
These ideas may help you to deal with some of the demands that are placed on you as a doctoral student, which are common to all doctoral students, from any discipline. In case you are interested in reading more about the professions, please see Hughes and Hughes (2013).
Elliott, P (1972) The sociology of the professions. Macmillan, London.
Hughes, W P and Hughes, C (2013) Professionalism and professional institutions in times of change. Building Research & Information, 41(01), 28-38.
This is my 25th year at the helm of the journal, Construction Management and Economics. I have enjoyed being at the centre of this and especially enjoyed interacting with so many people in our academic community; authors, referees, editorial board and publishers. There is a huge amount of support among the construction management community for this journal. Long may it continue!
However, nothing is forever. My contract as Editor-in-Chief has come to an end. Taylor & Francis, the publishers of Construction Management and Economics, have started the search for a new Editor-in-Chief. We are hoping that the new person will soon be identified and that the transition can be effected soon. Whatever happens, this is my last year in the post.
I look forward to new challenges and opportunities!
Measuring Construction: Prices, Output and Productivity. By Rick Best and Jim Meikle, Routledge, Oxford, 2015. 272 pp, ISBN 978-0-415-65937-6, £95 (hb)
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Publisher’s description: Despite the size, complexity and importance of the construction industry, there has been little study to date which focuses on the challenge of drawing reliable conclusions from the available data. The accuracy of industry reports has an impact on government policy, the direction and outcomes of research and the practices of construction firms, so confusion in this area can have far reaching consequences. In response to this, Measuring Construction looks at fundamental economic theories and concepts with respect to the construction industry, and explains their merits and shortcomings, sometimes by looking at real life examples. Drawing on current research the contributors tackle: industry performance; productivity measurement; construction in national accounts; comparing international construction costs and prices; comparing international productivity. The scope of the book is international, using data and publications from four continents, and tackling head on the difficulties arising from measuring construction. By addressing problems that arise everywhere from individual project documentation, right up to national industrial accounts, this much-needed book can have an impact at every level of the industry. It is essential reading for postgraduate construction students and researchers, students of industrial economics, construction economists and policy-makers.
Construction Innovation. Edited by Finn Orstavik, Andrew Dainty and Carl Abbott, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 2015. 224 pp ISBN 978-1-118-65553-5, £89.95 (hb)
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Publisher’s description: Construction innovation is an important but contested concept, both in industry practice and academic reflection and research. A fundamental reason for this is the nature of the construction industry itself: the industry and the value creation activities taking place there are multi-disciplinary, heterogeneous, distributed and often fragmented. This book takes a new approach to construction innovation, revealing different perspectives, set in a broader context. It coalesces multiple theoretical and practice-based views in order to stimulate reflection and to prepare the ground for further synthesis. By being clear, cogent and unambiguous on the most basic definitions, it can mobilise a plurality of perspectives on innovation to promote fresh thinking on how it can be studied, enabled, measured, and propagated across the industry. This book does not gloss over the real-life complexity of construction innovation. Instead, its authors look explicitly at the challenges that conceptual issues entail and by making their own position clear, they open up fresh intellectual space for reflection. Construction Innovation examines innovation from different positions and through different conceptual lenses to reveal the richness that the theoretical perspectives offer to our understanding of the way that the construction sector actors innovate at both project and organizational levels. The editors have brought together here leading scholars to deconstruct the concept of innovation and to discuss the merits of different perspectives, their commonalities and their diversity. The result is an invaluable sourcebook for those studying and leading innovation in the design, the building and the maintenance of our built environment.
Managing complex projects: networks, knowledge and innovation. By Neil Alderman, Chris Ivory, Ian Mcloughlin and Roger Vaughan, Routledge, London, 2014. 154 pp, ISBN 978-0-415-29958-9, £80 (hb)
Concerned with the management of complex long-term engineering projects, this important volume, of great interest to postgraduate students of business, technology management and engineering, reports on a set of rich, novel and unique findings concerning the conduct and management of three high profile and complex projects. The major investments which constitute complex long-term projects represent an increasingly important source of economic activity, often with particularly significant consequences for economic growth and public policy. This informative volume expertly contributes to broader debates concerning new organizational forms, knowledge management and organizational learning and the management of innovation in project-based settings.
International Construction Law. By Lukas Klee, Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, 2015. 534 pp, ISBN 978-1-118-71790-5, £75 (hb)
Publisher’s description: Large international construction projects often have a range of major contractors, subcontractors and consultants based in different parts of the world and working to different legal theories and understandings. This can lead to confusion in the understanding, interpretation and execution of the construction contract, which can result in significant disruption to the construction project. International Construction Contract Law is written for anyone who needs to understand the legal and managerial aspects of large international construction projects, including consulting engineers, lawyers, clients, developers, contractors and construction managers worldwide. In 18 chapters it provides a thorough overview of civil law /common law interrelationships, delivery methods, standard forms of contract, risk allocation, variations, claims and dispute resolution, all in the context of international construction projects. Highly practical in approach – it introduces legal analysis only when absolutely essential to understanding, the book also contains a range of useful appendices, including a 10-language basic dictionary of terms used in FIDIC forms.
I find pie charts so tiresome. In an exchange with an author who thought they were a good idea, I was looking at the multi-coloured, three-dimensional, textured shading of a few segments of his pie chart, and thinking that this is such a waste of space. As I long ago learned from reading Edward Tufte’s work on the art of visualizing quantitative information, if a graphic takes up more space than a text explanation, it is probably not needed.
My students sometimes say, in defence of a pie chart, that pictures are good; “a picture can paint a thousand words”, they say. “Ha!”, I scoff. There are many pictures that are more eloquent than a thousand words. But a pie chart paints about 6-12 words. It tells me that most things were in one category and the remainder were not. Or another pie chart tells me that things were roughly evenly distributed. But it tells me nothing interesting and with no accuracy, unless it is annotated with information that I would have preferred to read as text.
I was wondering why pie charts are so popular and suddenly realized that they were the graphical equivalent of bling. Maybe there is a role for them somewhere, but I do not think they are a part of serious communication.
Here are a couple of more detailed critiques of pie charts:
In commenting on a paper, I raised a question about the mobilization of the literature in relation to a particular point an author was making. The point made by the author was, she said, an illustration of a phenomenon mentioned in the literature by four different authors. She cited all four at the end of the sentence. I added a note to the paper on the specific question of whether their were any tensions between these four works that she might have helped to resolve; or whether there were tensions between her work and theirs as a whole. In other words, I realized that the phrasing indicated complete and unambiguous complementarity between her work and theirs. And it struck me that this was a general issue in many papers I read. Authors frequently structure their citations to the literature as if there were complete and unambiguous complementarity, even when there is not. I think that, as an academic community, we would do well to be more nuanced in the way that we mobilize the literature in support of what we say. Perhaps we need to articulate the tensions in order to emphasize the precise aspects of complementarity between our work and previous research.