Editor's note: This is the next in a series of columns in which two assistant professors of education, Drew Kemp and Susan Edwards, write about moving toward tenure in their second tenure-track jobs. Meanwhile, the department chair who hired them at Augusta State University, Judi H. Wilson, will offer her perspective on integrating new but experienced faculty members.
Judi H. Wilson. department chair: We are in the process of reconciling two worlds. Augusta State University, a regional teaching institution, is consolidating with Georgia Health Sciences University, a research-intensive institution. Because of the consolidation, many faculty members at Augusta States have concerns about how the institution's expectations will change regarding research.
In our newly consolidated university, faculty members will be required to quickly shift their emphasis from serving primarily as teachers to emphasizing research and scholarship. Not surprisingly, there is great trepidation and anxiety regarding this shift.
Fortunately, our department has established a strong support system to serve as a scaffold for each of us during this time of change and uncertainty.
For the past two years, our tenure-track faculty members have met together twice a month to discuss their individual progress in the area of writing. During each meeting, faculty members outlined writing goals for the next two weeks. The goals were to be both realistic and measurable. At the beginning of the next meeting, we reviewed our previous goals and set new ones. Some of the goals included revising a specific article for publication, seeking research approval through the university, or writing 500 words on a specific topic. The pressure of knowing we had to report to our colleagues usually pushed all of us to reach—and in some cases, exceed—our goals.
I do not feel any negative pressure from this group. I never dread our time together and find myself looking forward to the meetings. Group members are always encouraging and helpful. Sometimes a member sends a paper to us prior to a meeting. That allows us to advise the author on the writing style or content prior to the paper's formal submission. There truly is strength in numbers.
We celebrate each other's successes, and we help each other back up when we fall short of a goal or expectation. We have all experienced the pain of rejection, but we discovered it is clearly easier to endure the pain when this common experience is shared with others.
You can see the results of the group's success in our publication records. From the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010 (prior to beginning the group), the five members submitted four publications and seven presentation proposals. The following year, from the fall of 2010 to the fall 2011, those same faculty members (including the three authors of this article) submitted 23 publications and 18 presentation proposals. Obviously, this accountability strategy is working for our faculty.
We hope the support system we've established will enable us to thrive under the changing expectations of our new university.
Drew Kemp, assistant professor: Research means different things to different people. To some, it is the collection of data through experimental or quasi-experimental methods to create knowledge. To others, research is theory, philosophy, and reflection—data be damned. To still others, research is publication (seeing their name in print) or conference presentations (sharing information with colleagues from around the country and world). And to some people, research is impending doom.
With the approaching consolidation in mind, I have been looking back at the decisions I have made about my research. As I have mentioned in previous columns, I moved to Augusta State from another institution that was a research-intensive university. While there, I thought it would be beneficial to work in the spirit of collaboration, and, in retrospect, that has turned out to be a good idea. I learned from that experience that the most important research skill is being able to work with others. While the ability to collect and interpret data might be considered more important, I believe it is superseded by the ability to collaborate.
Here at a teaching university, with everyone having busy schedules, different skill sets, and different interests, it made sense to use collaboration as a means to better the department. We have classroom-management specialists, qualitative researchers, statisticians, theorists, faculty members who love to do literature reviews, and faculty members who love methodology. We work together on projects so that we can maximize our efforts.
We find ourselves here in unknown territory. We don't know how, precisely, our university, once consolidated, will change its research expectations. Will our tenure obligations be as a teaching institution or a research institution? What will be considered research? What contributions will count toward tenure and promotion? We talk about those questions a lot.
However, those of us who have been pursuing collaborative research now find ourselves in a good place. We have research agendas. We have projects. We have used collaboration to position ourselves for the future.
As a department, we are, collectively, going to learn to become more-established researchers. We are going to share ideas, talents, and skills. We are going to work together to grow not only as researchers but as teachers and colleagues.
Susan Edwards, assistant professor: Maybe I should have, but I did not leave graduate school confident enough to produce a vita full of scholarly publications. My strength is teaching, and I gladly took a position at a teaching university where scholarship was valued but the research expectations were relatively low.
Then I moved to Augusta State, a university that is also a teaching institution but has higher expectations for scholarship. I have been adjusting and stepping it up to meet those expectations. Now, as we merge with a research university, there is no doubt the scholarship expectations will rise once more. I plan to adjust again.
Teaching remains my strength, however, and I am indebted to the many colleagues who have given me guidance and advice about my research. What follows is a brief description of the support they have offered. I mention it here to help other junior faculty members who are attempting to gain confidence in the research realm.
- When I interviewed for the Augusta State job, the department chair made clear that I would need to increase my research and publications substantially in order to be viable for tenure. I appreciate that she spoke with candor. It does the new faculty member no good to have expectations soft-pedaled in the beginning and then find out from the tenure-and-promotion committee that she shot too low.
- Our department formed a writing group, which provides both support and accountability. Setting goals for the group has the effect of imposing deadlines on myself in an area where it's easy to keep putting things off.
- Mentors told me it was important to maintain a writing schedule. Other areas of faculty work—teaching and committee service—are highly scheduled. Writing isn't. By having writing hours on my calendar each week, I am much more productive.
- I have colleagues who are willing to think through my ideas with me. Sometimes that takes up only 10 to 15 minutes of their time, but it's invaluable to me. And some colleagues have been generous enough with their time to read through my manuscripts and give me feedback.
- A key form of support I received from colleagues was simply their encouragement to keep at it. They know writing is not my strength and have recognized my efforts.
I would imagine there are many Ph.D.'s who leave graduate school feeling vulnerable in one or more areas of faculty work. I have not needed much support with teaching or service, but I have greatly appreciated the guidance I have received in the area of scholarship. If you are a new faculty member, I encourage you to seek help in your area of weakness. If you are a senior faculty member, I encourage you to look down the hall at the junior faculty member and offer your help.