Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sustainable research

This afternoon I'm taking a break from syllabus-writing, paperwork-shuffling, and poison-ivy-scratching to lead a discussion at the New Faculty Retreat on the thrilling topic of "Developing a Sustainable Research Program," which I am looking forward to even though I'll have a very small group. The new faculty will be divided: science and math people in one group, everyone else in the other group. I get the other group, which will include maybe three or four faculty members, depending on whether the Psych and Comm faculty see themselves as humanists or social scientists.

All the new faculty members have read an article (or at any rate they've been given an article and asked to read it, along with a three-inch binder stuffed full of information deemed essential for new faculty members to digest) dealing almost entirely with research in the sciences, which is not entirely relevant to what we non-scientists do. I never have to worry about equipping a lab, for instance. However, the article does introduce the Big Question: how do we maintain a viable research program while teaching a 4/4 load, advising students, serving on committees, and being periodically asked to digest a three-inch-binder stuffed full of essential documents?

It's a tough question. I'll have a few suggestions and I hope the new faculty will share some ideas as well, but at this point my main goal is to encourage participation in a supportive community of scholars. A faculty member coming straight out of grad school is moving from an environment full of scholars pursuing similar types of research into one in which he or she may be the only person within 100 miles who knows anything about a particular research topic. How do we encourage participation in a supportive community of scholars when we may feel isolated within our own specialties? That's the biggest challenge. It's possible that the answer may be buried in that three-inch binder, but if not, we'll just have to figure it out for ourselves.

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