Breaking out of the Ivory Tower: Making the Move from the Lab to the Real World

Breaking out of the Ivory Tower: Making the Move from the Lab to the Real World

Kristina Coop Gordon (University of Tennessee, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0280-8.ch010

Abstract

This chapter outlines the author's process of moving from conducting laboratory research to community-based participatory research and her perspectives on the academic cultural barriers to making this shift. She also describes themes across her studies that are characteristic of successful projects and offers suggestions for future directions for clinical psychology that could increase academics' involvement in engaged research. The author also describes some important lessons from these experiences, such as (1) creative collaborations with interdisciplinary partners can lead to meaningful work outside of disciplinary and funding restrictions; (2) community partnerships can be “messy” to conduct, but the payoff in external validity is worth it; and (3) engaged scholarship requires a high level of investment and trust by both researchers and the community partners. However, despite the difficulties in establishing these connections and navigating differing agency structures, the final products can have a much larger impact and reward than carefully-controlled laboratory studies.
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Case Study

I was asked to write this chapter for this book because my personal story reflects my accidental journey from being trained in a program that was moving to a clinical science orientation focused mostly on in-house research to becoming more involved in engaged scholarship in my community. I did not do this transition deliberately and am only now beginning to discover the wide community of scholars who make this leap way before I did. My field is behind the curve on this change, but it is struggling to catch up. I believe as more researchers engage in this process they will discover, as I did, that there are enormous benefits to coming out of the ivory tower and working directly with community leaders. In this paper, I initially describe the first part of my career and how traditional clinical psychology training can be problematic. Then, I will describe both the benefits and challenges I encountered as I began my move out of the ivory tower. First, I discovered that the work is intrinsically more meaningful and more directly applicable to people who really need it, and this benefit enriches both participants and researcher alike. Second, the creative and interdisciplinary collaborations are highly attractive to a wide variety of funding sources, which allows you to do good work while also satisfying a high university priority. Even better, these collaborations teach academics important lessons regarding how to make their research more disseminable and feasible with the populations you are trying to reach. Finally, I also learned that these collaborations do not come without risk. They are slow, “messy,” and require a great deal of time and investment by both community partners and researchers. To do them successfully requires some careful timing and mentorship, which are often lacking in traditional academic settings.

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