Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writing, reflection, and impact on our research

At age seven I remember peering over the counter of Kmart slowly adding money from chores for the purchase of a bright pink notebook with a fake leather cover (it was the 1980s, so don't judge the fashion too harshly) and magnetic closure. I wanted to keep a diary after I learned how to write enough words to express my feelings. That day, I began journaling and have continued to journal throughout my life. I have a box full of my old journals stored away. Though I transitioned in 2005 from paper and pen to a private blog, I have found the act of writing and reflecting a powerful element in my life. As the semester draws to a close, I look back and feel glad that I have taken a new step in my reflective process. I keep a "research journal" where I free-write, reflect, and make notes about the research element of faculty life.

Sometimes my entries are desperate pleas to find time to write [February 20, 2010: "I can't do this. I can't balance all of this committee work and (title omitted of the article) that is due at the end of the month. I need large blocks of time where I can focus"] and other times the entry is a brief observation on methods, participants, or future project ideas [April 4, 2010: "I see a lot of pathways from this entry point in (project name omitted) and can't wait to dig into the literature to see if we've considered the student perspective."].

The writing is not forced, there are no rules, no structure. It is one place where I can simply dump all of my thoughts out to help focus on the path that needs to be taken. I began my research journal this past January and have found it to be a wonderful tool to help me stay motivated on my research--in fact, it has helped me to really keep my research a bigger priority this past semester. Often, though it is tough to admit, my research is a last priority for me. That is dangerous for the tenure path, but it often fades to the back-burner when faced with grading and committee work threatens all of my time. Since using my research journal, though, this semester I have submitted more articles, completed more projects, and worked with more data than in the past semesters. While some of this productivity can certainly be related to the ever-present and increasing-in-volume TICK-TOCK of my tenure-clock, I also believe a portion of the success has to go to reflective writing in the research process.

I'm writing on this journal as I feel that it has been a useful tool for me. This past Monday I was surprised to receive our college Scholarship award for the academic year! I truly believe this new focus on research is a driving force for my new motivations to keep research at the heart of the work that I do in future semesters. Would this work for you? What other tips might serve us well as we balance our service, teaching and research?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Research recoil?

I am transitioning from the Service component of tenure-track life to the Research element for a few posts to examine the balance of Research at a Teaching institution. Research weighs heavily on many tenure measures and I believe it should--it keeps us abreast of new developments in our disciplines and can push us to explore new pedagogical areas. I love doing research, but finding time to COMPLETE the research projects I've begun has been an ongoing challenge since starting on the tenure track. I've enjoyed the data collection and analysis, but find that partnering (co-authoring) has been a very helpful path to push many projects toward completion. The problem, some institutions do not weigh a co-authored article the same as a single-author article. This is understandable in many respects, but it does seem to push academia into more of an isolated, individualized endeavor. For me, collaborative work which crosses disciplines is very engaging and informative. I struggle with the potential recoil of the Research element when at a teaching institution.

Most teaching institutions carry a heavier load of teaching per faculty member. At mine, I often carry a 4/5/3 or 4/4/3 (anything above a 4 would be an "overload" based on the need for additional courses due to high enrollment or demand). With classes bearing 30-35 students each, the grading and energy required for instruction easily draw me away from the intellectually-intense research writing. I've been seeking advice from senior colleagues and new faculty members as well to explore the nebulous area of balance in the tenure track and found a few great guidelines to help us stay focused on a balanced tenure picture:

- Set deadlines and give incentives to meeting the deadlines (my advice, move deadlines up by two weeks to allow for the unexpected and work with mini-deadlines on larger projects).
- Work on having something "in the pipeline" so that you don't experience stagnation between projects.
- Determine boundaries on your teaching time (this is one where I struggle) and protect your writing/research time.
- Connect with others on the same timeline and consider peer reviewing /editing or simply meeting to support each other's research work.

What are some tips that have helped you, whether at a teaching institution or research institution? Feel free to post, email, and explore concepts together.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Conference season begins

April in my world is full of conferences and all kinds of exciting deadlines for publishing and presenting opportunities. As my conference season begins I am left with the scars of funding concerns in higher education. Many institutions, mine included, have been heavily hit by state funding shortages and one solution which many seem to adopt is limiting (or removing) funding opportunities for faculty travel to conferences. This is especially difficult for those of us who represent the only member of our discipline in an institution--conferences provide a much-needed exposure to scholars in our field, pedagogical advancements, and networking for future endeavors. I wonder, as we look at service-- including service within our associations as well as the continual look at how faculty members are rewarded (tenure requirements and more), will this lack of financial support result in a change in the way faculty are reviewed and rewarded? Or are many of us dipping deeper into our pockets to continue to attend conferences? This is especially concerning at some institutions which require conference service and presentation of research for the tenure process.

Last year the Chronicle reported "The recession is having a big impact, with attendance down at many academic and professional meetings, and next year is expected to be even worse." (J.R. Young, March 29, 2009 Economic downturn limits conference travel). There are institutions which have struck any funding for conferences, those which limit to one national conference a year, and those which have instituted application procedures for funding--but as the financial cuts continue where will it leave the academic conference in the landscape of higher education?

As I spoke about this with a colleague he noted that there are those who will always be able to travel and he felt those most impacted were junior faculty members and graduate students who are working to build their CVs and feel it necessary to travel. I personally dealt with this dilemma: The deadline for submission to a national association was in February and I took one look at the West Coast location and groaned. I priced a flight, hotel, and when the estimated cost hit $1200, I called others in my field to talk about what fallout could exist if I opted not to attend or present. It was a very difficult decision, but I decided to not attend. I've told myself I will focus on publishing and will attend next year when it will be in my state, but the nagging concern won't leave and each update on the looming conference brings a wave of concern.

I suppose higher education will continually adapt during these tight times and wonder what the changes will mean for both associations and for tenure review/faculty development. Until I know, I will attend my regional conferences and commit to service with these associations to continue to build my CV, contribute to my discipline, and operate under the assumption that a lack of funding for travel will not mean lessened scrutiny when the tenure review takes place.