How to Maintain Research Productivity

This summer is my first summer after receiving tenure at Seton Hall. While tenure and promotion to associate professor officially do not kick in until the start of the next academic year in August, there have already been some changes to my job responsibilities. The most notable change is that I have taken over as the director of the higher education graduate programs at Seton Hall, which means taking on a heaping helping of administrative work that is needed to make things run smoothly. While this work does come with a teaching reduction during the academic year, it’s a year-round job that takes a hefty bite out of my schedule. (And yes, professors do work—which is often unpaid—during the summer!)

Over the past few years, a few other factors have contributed to sharply reduce the amount of available time that I have to work on research. Since I teach in a doctoral program, faculty members are typically asked to chair more and more dissertation committees as they gain more experience. I also spend quite a bit of time on the road giving talks and being in meetings on higher education policy issues across the country, which is a great opportunity to catch up on reading dissertations in transit but makes it hard to write. These demands have really hit hard over the last few months, which is why blog posts have been relatively few and far between this year.

I had the chance to participate in a panel discussion through Seton Hall’s Center for Faculty Development last academic year on the topic of maintaining research productivity. I summarize some of my key points below, and people who are interested can listen to the entire podcast. Hopefully, some of these tips are especially useful for new faculty members who are beginning the exciting transition into a tenure-track position and often face more demands on their time than they faced in the past.

(1) Take care of yourself. One challenge of being a faculty member is that an unusually large proportion of our time is unstructured. Even for colleagues who teach three or four classes a semester (I teach two), direct teaching and office hour obligations may only be 20 hours per week. But the amount of work to do is seemingly infinite, resulting in pressures to work absurd hours. Set a reasonable bound on the number of hours that you are willing to work each week and stick to it the best that you can. Also make sure to have some hobbies to get away from the computer. I enjoy running, gardening, and cooking—as demonstrated by these homemade pizzas from last weekend.

(2) Keep your time allocation in mind. In addition to not working too many hours each week, it is important to be spending time on what is eventually rewarded. If your annual review or tenure/promotion guidelines specify that your evaluation is based 40% on research, 40% on teaching, and 20% on service, it is an issue to be spending 25 hours each week on teaching. Talk with experienced faculty members or trusted colleagues about what you can do to improve your teaching efficiency. If efficiency isn’t the issue, it’s time to talk with trusted colleagues about what can be done (if anything) to protect your time for research. I do my best to block off two days each week for research during the academic year, although that does get tough with travel, conference calls, and interviews.

Another helpful hint is structuring assignment due dates so you don’t get overwhelmed. I usually have a conference to attend during the middle of the semester, so I schedule the due date for midterm papers to be right before the trip. That way, I can read papers on the train or plane (since I’m not good at writing away from my trusted home office).

(3) Guard your most productive writing time. Most faculty members that I talk with have a much harder time getting into a research mindset than getting into a teaching or service mindset. This means that for many people, their writing time needs to be the time of day in which they are at their sharpest. Being able to control when you teach and meet with students is often outside your control, but deciding when to answer e-mails and prepare classes typically is. It’s hard enough to write, so blocking off several of your most productive hours each week to write is a must when tenure and promotion depend on it. Conference calls and nonessential meetings can fit nicely into the rest of your week.

(4) Collaborations can be awesome. (Caveat: Make sure your discipline/institution rewards collaborative research first. Most do, but some don’t.) In the tenure and promotion process, it is crucial for faculty members to be able to demonstrate their own research agenda and contribution to their field of study. But strategically using collaborations in addition to sole-authored projects can be a wonderful way to maintain research productivity and stay excited about your work. I have been fortunate to work with a number of great collaborators over the last few years, and just had a great time last week going out to Penn State to meet with my colleagues on a fun research project on state performance funding policies. These collaborations motivate me to keep working on new projects!

Colleagues, I would love to hear your thoughts about how you keep your research agenda moving forward amid a host of other demands. Either comment below or send me a note; I would love to do a follow-up post with more suggestions!

Author: Robert

I am an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. All opinions are my own.

One thought on “How to Maintain Research Productivity”

  1. I would maintain quotas of committees on which I sat and on the numbers of manuscripts I review each year.

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