This researcher created a niche in a field not always associated with science

She follows the advice a professor once gave her: “Write about something that interests you, and publish only when you have something to say.”

Anna Farmaki main
Dr. Anna Farmaki, Lecturer at the Cyprus University of Technology, on Ledras Street near the UN-controlled buffer zone of Nicosia, Cyprus – the last remaining divided capital in Europe.

Dr. Anna Farmaki, Lecturer at the Cyprus University of Technology, believes in her work. Her current research examines the social and political elements of tourism. She investigates the ways tourism can drive social change, and how bringing people together through travel can affect relations between nations. This work builds upon her main research interests, which lie in the areas of “tourist behavior” and “tourism planning and development,” primarily from a sustainability perspective.

Anna’s background is in marketing, but it was the process of examining tourism and its capacity for shaping our world that shifted her research focus to the socio-political dimensions of travel and tourism.

“I want to work on topics that can make a difference to society,” Anna explained. “The more I looked at tourism, the more I felt there should be an increased emphasis on societal and political aspects. That’s what drew me in, and I still get a lot of satisfaction when I publish something that could make a difference.”

Recently, Anna published a paper in Tourism Management Perspectives that examined the nature of travel in contexts of political instability. Other papers, including an article published in Tourism Management in 2017, look at the multiple dimensions of tourism and their relationship with political reconciliation. Each article stems from a suggestion a professor made early in her career:

He told me, ‘Write about something that interests you, and publish only when you have something to say.’ That’s some of the best advice I’ve received.

Working in Cyprus gives Anna insights into situations that can be extrapolated to apply to broader contexts:

You do need to argue the case as to why findings from a specific context can be generalized. Cyprus is a small island, so it can be difficult to apply findings more broadly, but it’s also a country rich in culture with a long history of political instability. In fact, Cyprus remains the only divided country in Europe. So, it’s relevant when it comes to examining the role of tourism in building connections and bridging divides.

Better together

That work puts Anna into contact with people from a variety of disciplines. “A lot of people think of tourism as a single discipline, but it’s more that tourism is the context where people from a variety of disciplines meet. There are scholars with a background in economics, marketing, geography and anthropology among other fields who publish in tourism journals. Tourism is the context where we apply our thinking.”

Anna explained that a great collaboration with people you’re suited to working alongside can be more fruitful than going it alone:

It’s not always easy to find the right collaborators, especially when you’re working in different countries in different time zones, but when you do have people that you click with, you can achieve things that you could never achieve on your own.

Of course there are challenges of working across disciplines. Anna pointed out that the variety of approaches taken in different disciplines exposes some issues with the peer review system. Those issues will be familiar to people across the research spectrum.

“Obviously peer review is important to science,” she said, “but it comes with its own set of challenges. Much of the data I gather is qualitative, so a reviewer from a discipline where quantitative data is more common might not be convinced by my methodology, or someone with a background in political science might not be convinced by the tourism element. It’s an interesting problem – I’ve even had comments by reviewers on papers that directly contradict each other.”

That process can slow down the publication of research, which Anna noted was especially frustrating given that much of her work is timely; when dealing with political and social trends, what was true one year may not be the case two years later.

“The data and findings in a research paper are knowledge,” she said. “They’re important and they’re contemporary. We need to get them out there and inform practitioners and other academics, and if the paper gets stuck in the review process for months, or even years, the data becomes outdated and research loses value.”

Commenting on the rise of preprints sites such as SSRN, which give authors a way to post their work in advance of the review process, Anna added, “These can work depending on discipline, of course — and if the authors want to have a preprint version of their findings out there.”

Driven by data

Like most researcher’s work, Dr. Farmaki’s is driven by data, and as such she is familiar with the challenges and opportunities that come with collecting it. Data sharing presents an opportunity for some, she said, but it’s not the silver bullet to research efficiency – and for certain types of data it can present more challenges than it solves.

“I’m lucky enough to work at a university that provides funding for research activity, but one of the biggest obstacles I face – as with most researchers – is around data collection,” she explained. “It’s time consuming, and it needs to be done with integrity and in accordance with the research ethics procedures of universities. It’s the data that will determine the type of paper you produce, where it will be published – and even if it will be published.”

While there are more and more ways to share data among researchers, challenges remain, Dr. Farmaki explained. “For researchers that do a lot of quantitative research, sharing datasets makes a lot of sense and can be relatively straightforward. In my case, I’m a qualitative researcher; I do focus groups and one-to-one interviews. A lot of that is confidential, and people will have signed consent forms. You get into difficult ethical territory sharing that kind of data. Ultimately, you have to get out there and talk to people – it does take time, but it’s essential to the paper. We need to treat data with respect each time we gather it and analyze it.”

Try, try again

That willingness to keep going out there and working on the things you believe will make a difference is central to the advice Dr. Farmaki offers other researchers. Having been the beneficiary of good advice in the past, Dr. Farmaki contemplated what she would pass on to other researchers:

I would say ‘be persistent.’ You will see a lot of rejection, but have faith in what you’re doing, and don’t give up.

I’d also remind people who are further into their research careers that we need to pass on knowledge and experience to younger researchers. We all need to remember how we started: we needed some kind of support system – we started with less knowledge and gained more as we worked. We need to extend that helping hand to the next generation.

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