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Refining researcher skills in the Philippines

The informal conversation I am engaged in is undulating slowly between topics of leadership, company concerns, and life on board, and I am listening intently to capture the meaning of what the seafarer is telling me.

.  Hanne Borgersen is a researcher for Grieg Shipping Group, and a PhD student at the Department of Psychosocial Science, the University of Bergen.

 Ms. Myla Arcinas and Dr. Melvin Jabar, my research associates at De La Salle University (DLSU), are following my progress as a cross-cultural, qualitative research interviewer and I cannot wait to discuss my experiences of this and other conversations and interviews with them. Good interview technique is about the researcher’s ability to pick up subtle cues from the interviewees, but, being a straight-forward Norwegian among uniquely perceptive Filipinos, I feel more like a bull in a china shop. Consequently, I am very grateful for the opportunity granted me by the Industrial PhD Program to spend six months as Visiting Researcher at the Social Development Research Center at the DLSU here in Manila.

The title of my PhD project at the University of Bergen (UiB) is “Antecedents and outcomes of authentic leadership in the maritime industry”, and my academic field is organizational psychology. The second study of my PhD project, the one that brought me to Manila, is a qualitative interview study aiming to explore how Filipino merchant marine Captains experience their leadership role on board Norwegian-owned cargo vessels, and how they talk about their emergence as leaders in the international shipping industry. esults from the twenty-odd research interviews will in turn feed into the identification of factors that may contribute to develop and sustain good, operational leadership among Filipino seafarers. About 20 000 of the 400 000 seafarers that the Philippines annually deploy are working in the Norwegian shipping industry.

. Hanne Borgersen with Director, staff, and research associates at the Social Development Research Center.

I arrived in Manila on October 20, 2011. My starting point was an open-ended agreement that Dr. Melvin Jabar would assist me in the preliminary phases and Ms. Myla Arcinas with analyses and reporting. In addition, I had a carefully selected sample of Filipino Captains, but alas, only a rough idea of their extensive work periods on board and when it would be possible to meet with those who consented to participate in my study. Consequently, the study unfolded in its own, quirky way, weaving back and forth between phases of scheduling and interviewing, listening and transcribing, analyzing, revising, and reporting. Myla, Melvin, and the SDRC Director and staff has done a marvelous job of accomodating my tricky research schedule and responding with constructive suggestions, ideas and perspectives. Last, but not least, I have had many, valuable lesson in the philosophy of “come what may”.

Foto: Hanne Borgersen Street view in Manila (Foto: Hanne Borgersen)

This philosophy of unconditional openness, that all things shall pass and in the meantime life is to be lived, preferrably in the company of one’s family and friends, is often regarded as a key characteristic of a Filipino way of life. All I can say is that this way of relating to various events hasmade a great impact on me, both on a personal level and in terms of developing my own sensitivity in the interview setting. What is more, it seems that learning to let go impacted positively on the research project itself; among other things we ended up with conducting a larger number of research interviews than anticipated. Thus, wehave found ourselves with an even richer data material from which to report to the scientific community, and in turn inform future, industry-specific leadership development interventions. As a result, Myla and I have decided to expand our analytical strategy in order to elicit all the contrasts and similarities that our respective starting points as Filipina sociologist and Norwegian organizational psychologist may entice from the Captains’ stories of leadership on board. Consequently, our collaborative research effort is still going strong even though I have returned to Norway and we, by definition, find ourselves a world apart. for the time being.

 

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