'You just try to find your own way': the experience of newcomers to academia
The purpose of the research reported on in this article was to explore how newcomer staff members to the academy experience their entry into the academic discourse community. To this end, a generic qualitative research design was implemented to understand the meaning newcomers have constructed about academia and how they make sense of their experience of, and participation in, the academic environment. A purposeful sample of 20 newcomers to a South African university was selected to be interviewed. Within this university newly-appointed academics are introduced to the academic environment via a two to three-day general induction seminar. The data-generating method used was in-depth, recursive interviews, in which participants were prompted to narrate and reflect on their experiences. Data was analysed inductively by seeking core consistencies and meanings (themes) within the data linked to the purpose of the research. The inquiry revealed three main findings: (1) Newcomers had to change their existing perceptions and expectations about what it means to be an academic; (2) They experienced their entry into the academic context as a highly individualised process; and (3) Most newcomers initially operated ignorantly of many of the features of the community, its discourse and the complexity of its rules of interaction. The article proposes a three-tier mentoring model that is conceptualised from a dialogic perspective as a means to assisting novice academics in entering and progressing within academia. We argue that the proposed model could also serve as a powerful transformation agent in the university, helping to build a diverse and strong academy.
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