I held my docent lecture last week (it will be the topic of an upcoming blog post), but since becoming a docent is a pretty big thing, I have divided this event into two separate blog posts where this blog post discusses the docent application process (and my own docent application) and a forthcoming blog post treats the docent lecture (which was recorded and will be made available on the Internet).
I submitted my docent application at the end of October, e.g. five months ago and the official document (the actual decision) was signed on February 4. So processing the application takes a few months, but some might have heard through the grapevine that the application itself was delayed by several years. Is there any truth to those rumors? Yes there is. But after having put it off for years - apparently eight years according to the calculations done by my current and my previous head of the department - I'm now officially a docent. So what's a "docent" (you might ask)? First of all it's an academic title and a mark of competence rather than an employment, so I'm still also an associate professor, and nothing has changed in my job description or my day-to-day activities and responsibilities. It can be compared to having completed your ph.d. studies - you then have a new title but it doesn't necessarily confer you with a job. Being a docent in a Scandinavian country is (Wikipedia) "the second highest grade in the Swedish academic system, the highest being (full) professor" and it is often translated into English as "Reader" and into French as "Maître de conférences" (MCF). While the term "docent" is widespread in German-speaking countries, it apparently means something slightly different there ("having the right to teach" etc.).
"In Sweden [...] The title is [...] awarded to people employed as [...] Associate Professor [...] with a distinguished international reputation after a rigorous review of their research." I can attest to the rigorousness of the review - and that is one of, if not the main reasons it took me so long. Another reason is that I haven't felt a great need to have a title that doesn't actually change any part of the job I do. The main reason I finally went through the process is however that I have to be docent in order to officially be the main supervisor of my two doctoral students, Aksel Biørn-Hansen and Minna Laurell Thorslund (I'm currently also the co-supervisor of two other ph.d. students, Petra Jääskeläinen and Joe Llewellyn). Being the main supervisor of doctoral students (and pulling in the money to hire them in the first place) is also one of the main requirements to becoming a full professor in Sweden. Also very cool is that I had the opportunity to alter my job title in the process so that I am now not only an "associate professor in media technology" but also a "docent in media technology with a specialization in sustainability"
Wikipedia also states that "For conferment of the title, there is a requirement that the researcher has a good overview of their research area and has demonstrated both the ability to formulate research problems and to independently carry through research programs. It is a requirement that the researcher should be able to lead research projects. The researcher must have substantial scientific research experience and be well published in scientific journals." I have heard that the rule of thumb is that you have to have published something that is equivalent to or exceeding two "additional" ph.d. theses. I did that years ago but have at each point in time preferred and prioritized writing yet another article rather than jumping through the hoops and completing a very detail-oriented application where I have to write one page about my "profile as a teacher in higher education" as well as exhaustively describe 1) Teaching experiences, 2) Teaching aid production, 3) Education administration and management, 4) Collaboration within study programme, 5) Teaching of general skills, 6) Bachelor’s and master’s level supervision, 7) Supervision at doctoral level, 8) Other pedagogical activities, 9) Education and outreach presentations, 10) Development of e-learning, 11) Other pedagogical merits, as well as demonstrating my theoretical knowledge (2 pages), my "approach" (1/2 page), my "proficiency as a teacher" (besides everything already stated and at this point I wrote "I don’t want to repeat myself and believe that everything that needs to be said has already been said in the preceding half a dozen pages") and "educational development work/projects" (1.5 pages). The whole application (without appendices) was around 16 500 (extremely carefully chosen and lovingly assembled) words broken down into research (>50% - most important), education (35%) and management (10%).
Proving that you are a competent (or dare I say "good") teacher here involves writing pages upon pages of text about how good a teacher you are, how your ideas about teaching have been shaped by experiences, thoughts and readings and how much you have read and thought about teaching (which pedagogical theories/traditions you align with - I chose to emphasize constructivist (Piaget and Bruner) and socio-cultural (Vygotsky, Lave, Wertsch, Cole, Säljö) theories of learning in my application), how experienced and successful you are as a teacher, how many courses you have developed and/or taught, how much you have cooperated with other teaches in your teaching, how many students you have supervised, how much you like to teach, how much you like and care about your undergraduate, graduate and ph.d. students, how much you love to deliver high-quality content/help students grow intellectually/teach things that will be useful in their future jobs and make them more employable when they graduate from KTH. I could go on...
Absent from this process is however any kind of process to try to ascertain that what I write is actually true - for example by attending a lecture or a seminar of mine, sitting down to discuss a course that I'm currently responsible for, talking to colleagues that I work with or interviewing current or previous students that have taken my courses or that have been supervised by me. Any and all of these methods would seem to represent common sense "low-cost" and "quality-assured" ways to go about to ascertain my qualities as a teacher - but what do I know about these things? I'm sure nobody would say they are a good teacher if they actually weren't (or at least thought they were). I'm also quite sure KTH would never confer the title of being a docent to a "bad" (non-top talent) teacher who doesn't much care for the students - and I can prove it! In the process of writing my docent application, I have looked at several other applications, and my unequivocal conclusion is that I'm fortunate to work with what must obviously be some of the very best teachers in all of Sweden! I'm also quite certain this impression of mine would not be weakened no matter how many additional docent applications I read!
As to writing about teaching, I'm quite happy about this paragraph (which fits with my inspiration from and support of constructivist and socio-cultural theories of learning):
"While Covid restrictions and Zoom teaching has been an interesting challenge, the fact that some now believe that much or all education could be moved online without any detrimental effects on the quality of teaching and learning is in my opinion a rash conclusion [note: I could have used stronger words than the very diplomatic term "rash", e.g. "less well thought through" or hinting that people who believe this sometimes lean towards being "unlucky" in their thinking]. That fact that some teaching easily can be moved online might say less about the general quality of “Zoom education” and more about missed pedagogical opportunities of ordinary routinized campus-based teaching and learning. If there is little difference between activities on Zoom versus activities in a physical classroom, it might very well be the case that we have not utilized all affordances that co-presence in classrooms has to offer."
I apparently also practice early 1980's management philosophies in/around my teaching:
"The Media Technology engineering students have their own premises (“section room”) on campus and during intensive periods of teaching, I take the opportunity to pass by a few times to make myself available for students in an informal setting [e.g. at the weekly student-organized pub] and with the added possibility that I might receive invaluable informal feedback on the course I teach (e.g. not usually captured in course evaluations [e.g. "I hated your course, there was too much to read but you should try stand-up comedy"]). This approach shares similiarities with the management philosophy “management by walking around” (Peters & Waterman 1982)."
Note: I have taken the comment about stand-up to heart and will start the course next month. I am currently negotiating the terms for a gig at the media technology student pub sometime before the summer (end of May?). Remember where you heard it first when I have my own Netflix Christmas comedy stand-up special! Also; thanks to Rob for helpful input (already at this early stage of my career) about creating my very own rags-to-riches storyline (struggling to get gigs, overcoming these obstacles [student pub], struggling to get people to laugh, overcoming these obstacles [using my lectures at KTH and any conversation with colleagues as practice session], struggling to get airtime, overcoming these obstacles [bribing or going to bed with the right people], struggling to get Netflix to agree to my non-negotiable conditions for a Christmas comedy stand-up special, overcoming these obstacles [haven't figured that one out yet but you bet I will be merciless in the negotiations], struggling to become prime minister of Sweden, overcoming these obstacles [close study/deep reading of the classic 1980's BBC political satire "Yes Minister", Julia Louis-Dreyfus as "Veep" and obviously also Zelensky's "Servant of the People"]). After that, the sky is the limit!
Writing the management part of the application was also a bit painful; "describe your leadership profile" (2+ pages), "management education", "management tasks and administration" and more. But I wrote some about a topic that has fascinated me for 20+ years, namely what what constitutes a creative environment and how I can contribute towards the goal of creating and supporting such (research) environments. I also managed to sneak in some not-very-covert critique in my application (which represents my idea of having fun). Here's my favorite formulation (backed up by references a-plenty):
"Academic leadership has been compared to the task of “herdig cats” and despite the fact that such questions have been a long-term interest of mine, I have to admit that I am still undecided about the appropriate balance between a top-down line organization and bottom-up creative self-organizing research groups [possibly true (?) when I wrote the application quite some months ago but definitely less so now - I used to be undecided but now I'm not so sure any longer]. I have read up on what characterizes creative (scientific) environments (Leebaert & Dickinson 1991, Törnqvist 2004) and on the perils of New Public Management and “admin society” (Strathern 2000 ["Audit cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics, and the academy"], Forsell & Ivarsson Westerberg, Graeber 2015 ["The Utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy"], Paulsen 2015, Alvesson & Spicer 2016 ["The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work" - which is a follow-up to their 2012 article "A Stupidity‐Based theory of organizations"], Bornemark 2018, Bornemark 2020), and I lean towards believing that KTH and Swedish higher education currently is over-regulated and over-administered (e.g. sharing several well-know problems with Swedish health care, public education and the police). It sometimes seems like we have perfected our processes at KTH to such a degree that they become nearly unworkable (for exampel recruiting new faculty, a process that can be so rigorous and slow that other faster universities snatch our best applicants). At other times there seems to be broad agreement that “something doesn’t work”, but actual change is exceedingly hard. This has led me to acknowledge (but not embrace) a cynical view of leadership (not restricted to the academic environment) where it’s easier to kick in open doors (spend much energy on easy or uncontroversial problems) while simultaneously avoiding harder, more important but “inconvenient” problems. In this I have been inspired by readings from “critical management studies” (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005) and in particular by Mats Alvesson’s texts (2012, 2013, 2016, 2019)."
I also used the docent application as a vehicle to try to make sure I would not easily be promoted to an academic leadership role beyond leading a research group. A UK full professor and previous Head of School stated that this text could have stopped my promotion at his university, so I guess I'm lucky it probably got lost among all the verbiage I produced:
"When I took the Life- and Career planning course (LoK) that KTH offers through the HR consultancy Starck & Partners, I thought long and hard about my strengths and weaknesses as an academic leader. One conclusion I have drawn is that while I enjoy leading a research group, my inclination is to stay out of positions of (higher) management. I am well aware of my own limitations and while I can be diplomatic, I do have a hard time dealing with that which is illogical or unreasonable, or to turn a blind eye to issues than an organization might find inconvenient and would prefer not to deal with."
I certainly hope that others see that I try to prove this (and back it up) on a near daily basis as well as in blog posts such as this! I would obviously be a terrible head of [X], director of [Y] or member of committee [Z] because who knows what I might write about X, Y and Z on my blog? I'm literally the definition of a "loose cannon" and I join Richard Feynman in suggesting that we should instead "Let George do it"!
The last part of the process involved listing and submitting 10 publications of mine. Selecting them and justifying the selection was actually a lot of fun! I wonder though if anyone actually read any of these papers in the docent application process, or if the act of listing them was enough to "prove" what a good researcher I am?
Below are ten selected publications. My reasoning for choosing these specific publications are as follows:
- Four texts are published in academic journals and the other six texts are published at conferences. Three of the conference papers have been published at the most prestigious conference in my field (CHI).
- I am the first author of six of these publications, the second author of two publications and the third author of the remaining two publication. I have either lead the work or had a large impact on all of these texts. Three of texts have more than three authors, but I was the first author and led the work on all of these texts.
- All ten publications are the result either of international collaborations (6 have co-authors in other countries), national collaborations (6 have co-authors at other Swedish universities) or collaborations with researchers at other Schools at KTH (2 texts).
- Both the papers that were mentioned in “2.3. Evaluation of own scientific field” are listed below (#3, #7) and one of these papers (#7) got an “Honorable Mention” (top 5% of papers) at the prestigious CHI conference.
- Nine publications are situated in the intersection of sustainability and computing. Eight of these have been published during the last five year (2017-2021) and thus represent recent reseach output of mine.
- One text (#10) represents my earlier research interests (social media, computer games) and it is one of my most cited papers.
In terms of the three research areas mentioned under “3.2 planned research activities”, four texts (#1, #6, #7, #9) represent my interest in “conceptualizing the relationship between HCI/computing and sustainability” and four texts (#2, #4, #5, #8) represent my methodological contributions in the intersection of HCI and Futuring/Futures Studies. Three of the texts below (#1, #3, #9) represent contributions to Sustainable HCI design concepts.
- Not well represented below (with the exception of #2) are publications that represent output from the three research projects I lead (which all started either at the end of 2019 and in 2020. Such publications are either in press, e.g. one book chapter [REF] and one journal article [REF], or in preparation (several).
#1. Hansson, L., Cerratto Pargman, T. & Pargman, D. (2021). A Decade of Sustainable HCI: Connecting SHCI to the Sustainable Development Goals In Proceedings of the CHI 2021 Conference. ACM.
#2. Bendor, R., Eriksson, E., & Pargman, D. (2021). Looking backward to the future: On past-facing approaches to futuring. Futures, 125, 102666. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2020.102666
#3. Widdicks, K., Pargman, D., & Björk, S. (2020). Backfiring and favouring: how design processes in HCI lead to anti-patterns and repentant designers. In Proceedings of the 11th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Shaping Experiences, Shaping Society (NordiCHI). ACM
#4. Pargman, D. S., Eriksson, E., Bates, O., Kirman, B., Comber, R., Hedman, A., & van den Broeck, M. (2019). The future of computing and wisdom: Insights from Human–Computer Interaction. Futures, 113, 102434. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2019.06.006.
#5. Pargman, D., Eriksson, E., Höök, M., Tanenbaum, J., Pufal, M., & Wangel, J. (2017). What if there had only been half the oil? Rewriting history to envision the consequences of peak oil. Energy Research & Social Science, special issue on Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research. Volume 31, pp.170-178.
#6. Pargman, D., & Wallsten, B. (2017). Resource Scarcity and Socially Just Internet Access over Time and Space. Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Computing Within Limits, pp. 29-36. ACM.
#7. Raghavan, B., & Pargman, D. (2017). Means and Ends in Human-Computer Interaction: Sustainability through Disintermediation. In Proceedings of the CHI 2017 Conference. ACM. Honorable mention.
#8. Pargman, D., Eriksson, E., Höjer, M., Gunnarsson Östling, U., & Aguiar Borges, L. (2017). The (Un)sustainability of Imagined Future Information Societies. In Proceedings of the CHI 2017 Conference. ACM.
#9. Pargman, D., & Raghavan, B. (2014). Rethinking sustainability in computing: From buzzword to non- negotiable limits. In Proceedings of the 8th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI). ACM, pp. 638-647.
#10. Pargman, D., & Jakobsson, P. (2008). Do you believe in magic? Computer games in everyday life. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 11(2), 225-244.