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?