The Professional Academic

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.


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Termination of editorship

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!

Posted in CM&E forum, Editorial policies | 6 Comments

Best, R and Meikle, J (2015) Measuring Construction: Prices, Output and Productivity. Oxford: Routledge.

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)

Click here to buy this book on Amazon

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.

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Orstavik, F, Dainty, A R J and Abbott, C, (Eds.) (2015) Construction Innovation. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

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.

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Alderman, N, Ivory, C, Mcloughlin, I and Vaughan, R (2014) Managing complex projects: networks, knowledge and innovation. London: Routledge.

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.

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Klee, L (2015) International Construction Law. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

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.

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Pie charts: graphical bling?

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:

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Publication rights and sharing your work

We often get enquiries from authors who have posted a pre-publication draft of their work in an institutional repository, or some other on-line repository of work-in-progress, such as SSRN or REPEC. These services invite authors to place working papers and drafts on-line in order to attract comment and discussion so that they may develop their work before journal submission. For the avoidance of doubt, we would like to emphasize that our publishers, Taylor & Francis, are happy with the idea of publishing a paper that has been in the public domain as a working draft.

Authors are permitted to deposit their paper pre-publication on a personal or institutional website as part of T&F’s Green Open Access Policy. They can post the Author Original Manuscript (AOM) and/or Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM). Both versions are of the paper before it has undergone any copy editing or typesetting. T&F then request that Authors link from the draft to the “Final Version of Record”, when it has been published. They should credit the published article and provide a link to it. Full details of the publication policy are kept up-to-date here.

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Complete and unambiguous complementarity

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.

Posted in Guidance, Style, Writing | 3 Comments

Ross, A and Williams, P (2013) Financial Management in Construction Contracting. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Financial Management in Construction Contracting. By Andrew Ross and Peter Williams, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2013. 456 pp, ISBN 978-1-4051-2506-2, £39.99 (pb)

Publisher’s description: This authoritative text provides a detailed insight into how construction companies manage their finances at both corporate and project level. It will guide students and practitioners through the complexities of the financial reporting of construction projects within the constraints of accepted accounting practice. The book is written for non-accountants and from a contractor’s perspective and is equally relevant to subcontractors and main contractors. The authors examine the relationship between the external annual accounts and the internal cost-value reconciliation process. CVR is covered in depth and the authors consider issues such as interim payments, subcontract accounts, contractual claims, final accounts, cash flow management and the reporting of the physical and financial progress of contracts. A broad perspective of all the financial aspects of contracting is taken along with related legal issues and the authors explain how things operate in the ‘real world’. They describe good practice in financial control while at the same time being honest about some of the more questionable practices that can – and do – happen. The approach taken is unique as the financial management of construction projects is considered from the perspective of the contractor’s quantity surveyor. The book deals with the real issues that surveyors have to address when using their judgment to report turnover, profitability, cash flow, and work in progress on projects and the financial problems faced by subcontractors are frankly and pragmatically explored. The payment and notice requirements of the Construction Act are explained in detail and relevant provisions of JCT2011, NEC3, ICC, DOM/1 and other standard contracts and subcontracts are also covered. Financial Management in Construction Contracting addresses the wide variety of external factors that influence how construction companies operate, including government policy, banking covenants and the financial aspects of supply chain management. Cost reporting systems are described and real-life examples are used to illustrate cost reports, accrual systems and how computerised systems can be employed to provide the QS with information that can be audited. Examples drawn from practice demonstrate how work-in-progress (WIP) is reported in contracting. Cost value reconciliation reports are featured and the book demonstrates how adjustments are made for overmeasure, undermeasure, subcontract liabilities and WIP as well as explaining the processes that contractors use when analysing external valuations. This is the ideal core text for final year degree and post-graduate level modules on Quantity Surveying, Commercial Management, Construction Management and Project Management courses and will provide an invaluable source of reference for quantity surveyors and others who may be engaged in the financial management of construction projects.

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