121 Letter from Mia Larson
Travelling to experience other countries and ways of living has been a way of life since I was a child. I was brought up in a family with a sailing boat and every summer we sailed to different harbours in Sweden and Denmark, and also, when I was a teen, in Croatia. So, I guess that’s where my interest in tourism research started. Travelling served as a way both to get away from, what I considered, the boring little village I grew up in, and get to see new places. As I began travelling by my own in my teens, it was mainly a way to get to know new exiting people and attend cool and fun events. I stayed for longer periods in London working as an au pair, Switzerland working with show jumping horses, and Germany studying German – and for a few years I procrastinated starting a (in some people’s view) “real” life by staying abroad. In a way, my travelling almost got existential, at every new place I could reinvent myself, start fresh, and start a “new” life, even if it was just a few weeks of island hopping in Greece, for example.
At 23 years old, starting university studies, this moving around continued. First part of the bachelor program was in Sundsvall in northern Sweden, and it finished in Uppsala, followed by some courses in Gothenburg before I started PhD studies at the Business School in Gothenburg. Also during my PhD studies I travelled a lot! Research conferences at twelve different places and a few months at Griffith University in Australia combined with a project employment in Östersund in northern Sweden. Of course, this did not stop after I had my PhD, I have continued attending conferences, doing extended research visits and also changed jobs a couple of times. It is still a lifestyle I pursue, integrated in my identity and life pattern, although perhaps not as important anymore, something I learned during the Corona time, time will tell.
So, it seems only natural that I first focused my research on international business and then, a year into the PhD program, switched to events and tourism. I would say that a solid interest in the tourism industry, and of course academic research, combined with a never-ending curiosity, motivated me and made me stay in Academia. Reflecting on key words of my research (collaboration, network interaction, communication, change, innovation, creativity, culture, gender etc.) I realize they go in line with my approach to life (i.e. curiosity and change, travelling and moving, relating and interacting). It may not come as a surprise that most of my research career has been conducted in multi-disciplinary environments where people with different disciplinary backgrounds, paradigms and perspectives come together in research projects. My experience is that this approach to life and work gives a lot in terms of learning to reflect on and understand the world, people, and of course be able to conduct research from many different perspectives. It may also be beneficial in terms of spotting emerging phenomenon to study early on. And…not to say the least…it is fun!
However, the consequence of this approach may also be that it does not always benefit a fast and effective research career. Instead of sticking to one research topic throughout my career, and make myself known for being a specialist in for instance event management, I move on to new, in my view more exiting, research topics. Some of the times I have started a new research topic as a first runner, and found myself bored a few years later and moved on to something else, but after some time the topic became recognized and popular. On the other hand, I find myself being able to handle many different fields and see the broad picture.
Many would agree that working in Academia, in particular as a woman, is tough. I would be the first one to agree to that. Although being an academic has been and is a lifestyle that I enjoy very much with all its benefits of having time to explore and learn, there have been many times I was very close to jumping the ship. Although I believe Sweden is one of the best countries in terms of gender equality, there is still a long way to go. However, I am happy to see that things changed a lot since 25 years ago when I was a PhD student, but still, the obscure structures persist (Munar et al, 2015; Ek & Larson 2017). Apart from the gender inequalities, Academia is a tough working environment including rough competition, workplace politics, demanding work load etc. At the same time, it is filled with interesting and intelligent people – colleagues, international peer scholars, and students. Academia is also a place to immerse oneself into research of one’s own desire (see Munar & Hall, 2020). It is a place that may sometimes seem to be very individualistic and self-promoting, but instead I choose to see it as a place of being creative with other people to pursue knowledge on matters that matter for us.
This glimpse into my academic world hopefully triggers some thoughts reflecting on your own. To assist in that I put forward some questions.
- What lifestyle do you enjoy, and how can you fit your academic work into that lifestyle?
- How can your interests fit into your research topics?
- Would you rather be a specialist or generalist in your research field, and what would that mean for your motivation/your career? You can be both, although that involves a lot of work!
- What kind of working environment makes you thrive?
- Who/what triggers your creativity?
- How do you deal with organizational politics?
- How do you find colleagues to work with that advocate equality – for real?
- How can you avoid working with academics harassing or discriminating you and/or your colleague/s and how do you go about when reporting events of harassment?
- How can you support other female researchers, in your department and in other universities?
- And, how do you support YOU, when the going gets tough?
Service Research Center, Karlstad University, Sweden
Ek, R., & Larson, M. (2017). Imagining the Alpha male of the tourism tribe. Anatolia, 28(4), 540-552.
Munar, A. M., & Hall, L. (2020). Desire as a Way of Knowing. In T. Pernecky (Ed.), Postdisciplinary Knowledge (pp. 84-96). Abingdon: Routledge.
Munar, A. M., Biran, A, Budeanu, A., Caton, K., Chambers, D. Dredge, D., Gyimothy, S., Jamal, T., Larson, M., Nilsson Lindström, K., Nygaard, L., & Ram Y. (2015). The Gender Gap in the Tourism Academy: Statistics and Indicators of Gender Equality. While Waiting for the Dawn. Report 1. Copenhagen.