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Facilitating Research Productivity. 2009 Senior Leadership Retreat, August 17, Allerton Park. John Unsworth, Dean Graduate School of Library and Information Science. What is research productivity?. The answer to this question depends, in different ways, on: Faculty member’s discipline

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Facilitating Research Productivity

2009 Senior Leadership Retreat, August 17, Allerton Park

John Unsworth, Dean

Graduate School of Library and Information Science

what is research productivity
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatWhat is research productivity?

The answer to this question depends, in different ways, on:

Faculty member’s discipline

Faculty member’s rank

Standards and norms of the unit

How one facilitates research depends, in turn, on:

whether or not that research requires external funding

whether there are common research interests shared by groups of faculty, and

whether the research requires expensive or specialized infrastructure

productivity and discipline
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatProductivity and Discipline

In GSLIS, we have faculty from humanities, social science, natural science, engineering, and other doctoral backgrounds.

Faculty participate in very different research communities:

For some, the conference paper is the most important genre of research communication

For others, it is the journal article

For others, it is the book

Some co-author with colleagues and/or students

Others tend to publish solo

Some require significant funding to do their research

Others need time more than money

productivity and discipline an example
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatProductivity and Discipline (an example)

One faculty member, from a computer-science background, benefits from having a good-sized group of doctoral students, because those students are partners in his research, and he can accomplish more with a research group than he can do alone. When there are research results, the faculty member co-publishes with his students.

Another faculty member, from a humanities background, enjoys working with doctoral students, but each additional student is in some sense an impediment to her research, because she does research and publishes alone, so her work with students is for their benefit, rather than for mutual benefit.

productivity and rank
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatProductivity and Rank

Just as we have different expectations for service according to the rank of a faculty member, we should have different expectations for research.

Senior faculty may sometimes take on research funding that will help to advance a large, multi-institutional project, and may specifically advance the careers of doctoral students or junior faculty in research terms, whereas for the senior faculty member the benefit has more to do with leadership, or it may have to do with building an institution, establishing a standard, providing an important resource, or in some other way providing a service to the research community.

productivity and rank and discipline
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatProductivity and Rank (and Discipline)

Junior faculty should be encouraged to compete for external funding, when doing so can advance their own research agenda and produce the kinds of results that will get them tenured. Under these circumstances, they should be encouraged to pursue funding even if the norms of their research community don’t value external funding for its own sake.

productivity and rank and discipline1
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatProductivity and Rank (and Discipline)

On the other hand, junior faculty should be discouraged from seeking or accepting funds that obligate them to significant amounts of work that would be counted as service rather than research, and they should be able to clearly identify the grant deliverables that will count as their own research accomplishments. This skepticism with respect to external funding should be encouraged even if the norms of their research community value external funding for its own sake.

standards and norms of the unit
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatStandards and Norms of the Unit

We all understand that research productivity is measured relative to others in the field, but it is also measured relative to others in the unit. In an interdisciplinary unit, this may raise some interesting challenges. For example:

Faculty members who do research that does not require significant external funding may feel that their work is undervalued by the unit, in comparison to the work of colleagues who bring in external funding.

Faculty members who do research that requires external funding may feel that the time they spend with students, in developing and leading a research group, is not recognized as teaching, because the instructional activity doesn’t take the form of a course delivered for credit.

facilitation of externally funded research
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatFacilitation of Externally Funded Research

There are some basic support services that make it easier for faculty who seek external funding. Some of these are more generally part of the operation of any academic unit, and some are unique to research operations. General services include:

human resources


fiscal services

information technology support

Although these services are generally needed in any unit, in certain situations it may make sense to have specialized versions of any of them, in support of research.

facilitation of externally funded research1
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatFacilitation of Externally Funded Research

Research-specific support services include:

identifying opportunities for funding

developing grant budgets

working with the university’s institutional review board and the office of sponsored research

submitting proposals

managing projects

ensuring regulatory compliance

providing periodic progress reports to the funder

research administration
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatResearch Administration

This second group of research-specific support services may be organized under administrative leadership, usually an Associate Dean, at the level of a College or School, or sometimes under a Director, in a large department. It is important that this person be a faculty member, in order to have credibility with other faculty, and in order to understand faculty perspectives and needs.

Reporting to this associate dean or director may be:

Fiscal and administrative staff

Research faculty/scientists/programmers

Project managers

Center directors

research centers
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatResearch Centers
  • In situations where a number of faculty have research interests in common, it may make sense to organize support for their activities in a center or institute. The advantages of doing this include:
  • Managing specialized facilities or resources
  • Developing specialized expertise among support staff
  • Creating a mechanism for sharing (and funding) support staff across a number of related projects
  • Providing an institutional context for individual projects (which can make proposals more competitive and funders more confident)
  • Integrating research and teaching in a programmatic way
research centers1
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatResearch Centers
  • Some centers exist within departments, but many are at the college or campus level, and provide support for faculty research across a number of different disciplines. These interdisciplinary research centers tend to be more common and more numerous in science and engineering than in the humanities and the arts; social sciences are reasonably well represented in places like Beckman, the Information Trust Institute, and NCSA.
  • The humanities are supported by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, and Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science, and NCSA.
  • The arts have some support from NCSA’s Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technology, as well.
facilitating research without external funding
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatFacilitating Research Without External Funding
  • Some research activities require little or no external funding, and some disciplines have very limited opportunities for funding. But even when research can be done without funding, it almost always can be done better, faster, and more thoroughly with funding. For example, even in traditional humanities research, some travel to libraries, archives, or museums may be necessary, as is some released time to read and write, and occasionally the purchase of specialized library resources.
improving research outcomes
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatImproving Research Outcomes
  • Facilitating this kind of research may mean:
  • improving the quality of the final product
  • decreasing the time it takes to produce it
  • increasing the likelihood of its publication and the scope of its dissemination
  • assisting with rights, permissions, contracts, etc.
  • Some of this can be accomplished with appropriately trained office staff, and some with student research assistants. Some may require institutional funding, if external funds are unavailable.
support from the home unit and the ovcr
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatSupport from the home unit and the OVCR
  • Existing mechanisms like sabbatical leave are intended to provide time for research, and faculty who take sabbaticals are expected to report on the research outcome of their time off. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research also runs a Humanities Release Time program, for one-semester teaching release.
  • Most units offer some travel funding, but in hard times that funding may decrease or disappear: especially in disciplines where research grants are rare, though, it would be wise to retain travel funds. The OVCR also offers Scholars Travel Funds, and faculty should be encouraged to seek these out.
support from the home unit and the ovcr1
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatSupport from the home unit and the OVCR
  • Research assistants can help not only with library research but also with source-checking, proof-reading, copy-editing, and other things once done by publishers. Faculty should be encouraged to apply for Research Support Awards, from the OVCR, to pay for research assistants. These awards can also pay for equipment, travel, publication subventions, and other research-related expenses.
  • Faculty in the performing and visual arts and in design-related disciplines can apply to the OVCR’s Performing Arts and Design program, for funding to cover costs related to creative projects.
  • Finally, the OVCR has, in the past, run a Research Scholars program, to support research activities of faculty spouses and partners. I’m not sure if this program is planned to continue.
research always costs something
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatResearch Always Costs Something
  • Although the scale of funding needed varies quite a bit from the humanities to the social sciences to science and engineering, there is really no research activity that happens for free. As a general rule, internal funding of research (by the home unit, the OVCR, etc.) should be positioned and understood as start-up support for activities that will go on to seek external funding. Even in disciplines where external funding is unusual, it is available, and it can enable more ambitious, more collaborative, and more interdisciplinary research endeavors. It can also help to engage students in research apprenticeships.
concluding observations
2009 Senior Leadership RetreatConcluding Observations
  • We have generally good support for research at Illinois, at the campus level, but research administration and support varies quite a bit when you get to the department level, and it varies quite a bit across disciplines. It pays, in many ways, to provide good service and support for research.
  • Research is a core activity for faculty in all disciplines, and so every discipline and unit has established research paradigms. Nevertheless, it is worth questioning those paradigms periodically.
  • It is ultimately the quality of the research outcome, and its impact, that matters. If we get too accustomed to letting funding stand for those things, we do our junior faculty, in particular, a disservice. On the other hand, if faculty never seek funding, certain kinds of research will never happen.