Saturday, June 10, 2017

The writing and research grind - you are not alone!

I recently had the honor of helping to organize and facilitate a qualitative research retreat sponsored by my university. The process of organizing the retreat involved a few strategic partnerships who connected to sponsor about 20 spaces for tenure-track and tenured folks to come together, talk about methods, projects, ideas, and barriers. We incorporated a dynamic speaker, Dr. Lucy Bailey from Oklahoma State Universty, and had a few days of powerful research-heavy conversations. We stopped outside distractions and just focused on research (what a privilege! I am still in so much appreciation to our University for this opportunity).

Many of us were from very different disciplines, we had different experience levels with qualitative work, and we were at different points in our academic careers. As a facilitator, I was initially worried about these inherent differences. However, after day one it was clear to see that our differences made our conversations much richer. It was exciting to see new partnerships emerge across colleges and disciplines. I enjoyed leaning back and watching light bulbs burst into illumination above my colleagues' heads as they really explored their research.

It reminded me of the value of writing and research WITH others. There are times when our journey as academics and administrative academics can feel isolating--especially when struggling through a nebulous research project or when you have a strong idea for research that doesn't move forward and is somehow "stuck" and you need to talk it out. The isolation can be especially profound when one is on the tenure-track and may not feel confident about their productivity or processes. This reminded me just how important it is for us to open ourselves up to feedback, to seek the help we need, and to invest in really strong peer mentoring and support efforts along the tenure-track and post-tenure.

Consider what you can do to ditch the isolation and help yourself (and others) on the research journey. Perhaps you help to organize a retreat like we did, perhaps you start a reading group focused on one type of methods, research, or content. Perhaps you grab a few of your colleagues who are at a similar point in their academic journeys and declare a phone-free, distraction-free weekend of writing hosted at your home. Set goals and help one another get there. A writing/review group that meets weekly (or every other week) may foster accountability and work to ditch those pesky feelings of isolation.

With so many demands on our time, especially those of us in "split" positions, we may forget our needs relating to mental space, environment, and energy to be productive researchers. We may also forget the ability we have to mentor others in their journey. Our days are filled with people, but we often get mired in our isolated reality and lose the bigger picture. We're all in this together.

The next time you feel that research black hole threatening to swallow you up, consider how you can craft creative systems to help yourself and others achieve writing and research goals.