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
2009 Senior Leadership Retreat, August 17, Allerton Park
John Unsworth, Dean
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
ensuring regulatory compliance
providing periodic progress reports to the funder
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