tenure track

Meditations on Tackling a Large Research Agenda as a Tenure-Track Faculty Member

I’ve been thinking more about research agendas and large-scale research projects lately. I’ll readily admit (as will my CV) that most of my research before the dissertation consisted of one-off sorts of things. A lit review here, a best practices there, presentations on bits and pieces of my work that all together paint a decent picture of the sorts of things I was working on as a professional academic librarian. But they were never coherently planned as something to present as a set, or to build upon each other. My dissertation is truly the first time I’ve articulated a large, multi-stage, likely multi-publication research agenda for a particular phenomenon.

My dissertation project itself can, I think, be carved neatly into three separate articles to articulate the research succinctly. The first part, on the relationship between academic library department experience and perceived leadership skill development, was published in The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Another, on how different positions within the library are related to leadership skill development (at staff, librarian, department head, and director level), is in draft form. The third, which discusses the leadership skills academic librarians have the least chance to develop, and the positions that offer the most development opportunities in those rarely-hit areas, is currently undergoing peer review.

In thinking about my research, I find that I would likely do it anyway, because I find the entire process of research interesting and engaging. As a tenure-track faculty member, my colleagues (and my institution) have expectations that I will pursue, and more importantly publish, my research. (If you are new to the tenure-track and its requirements, you should follow Abigail Goben’s Open Access Tenure posts, which are richly detailed and–in my experience over the span of a few academic institutions–a fair description of the process.)

But there is a larger research agenda at work. I wrestle both with (i) turning the dissertation into journal articles that I hope the profession will find useful, and (ii) to articulate and implement next steps of the research in terms of how I want to publish it, present it, and leverage it in various ways (for instance, to  apply my expertise to consulting work). Some thoughts now that I have had the time to process completing the dissertation and reworking it into journal article form:

  • Re-using data tables. I can get (and have received) publisher permission to re-use data tables from my own articles. This was easy enough to get from Elsevier for some tables in my article in TJAL. I filled out the requisite online form, and since I’m the author and it’s my own data tables, I’m allowed to reproduce them at no cost with a footnote noting first publication with and permission from Elsevier. This was important, since things like the demographics for my data are information I’ll need to re-use in each article, and I am likely to publish in other journals. It is a good idea to keep track of what parts of your text, tables, and figures you may want for concomitant or future publications, and to work on getting those permissions as soon as you realize you’ll need them. It is bound to save you stress later.
  • Methodology. The data analysis part for each article is unique, and so hasn’t been reproduced in either of the other yet-unpublished articles from the dissertation, but I’m surprised at what a challenge it is to not self-plagiarize the methodology part of the write-up for each article, since that is effectively the same for the whole research project. Citing myself and the already-published article feels like self-aggrandization, but I can’t really see any real way around this (however, ideas are welcome – please send them in the comments!). I’m adding this to Things I Didn’t Learn in Various Grad Schools, and Things That Are Relevant To Large Research Projects so I an be sure to share this with my students.
  • Literature reviews. Ditto the self-plagiarization challenge mentioned in the methodology section above. Here I find it slightly easier to avoid completely and exclusively self-referencing with a bit of elbow grease and meticulous research, since instead of just stealing the literature review straight from the dissertation, the smaller write-ups of pieces of the project can really have a more nuanced (and much more brief) review of the literature relevant to just those research questions explored in the article. This (as most everything else), takes far more time than I initially budgeted. Turning your dissertation into articles isn’t an easy chop-it-into-pieces job. It really does require re-crafting things.
  • Pacing of research and publication. Honestly, I didn’t really give this too much thought, since I usually have more than one project in the hopper at once, but publication pacing is probably a good idea for someone on the tenure track who needs to demonstrate a pattern of activity (instead of blowing one’s scholarly wad all at once, having three articles published in Year 3, and then nothing for the other years). I don’t worry overmuch about this since I figure both the drafting of each article and then the turnaround for per-review and revisions will end up doing the pacing for me. In the case of the expected three pieces from my dissertation, the first was published in May 2015, and I imagine the other two will span 2015 and into 2016 depending on revisions and such. I also have a book contract with ALA for a more applied look at these leadership development issues, and I figure with a May 2016 manuscript delivery deadline, that book will come out in late 2016 or early 2017. Also, because I am now working on researching the same phenomenon in a slightly different population to see if conclusions hold, I imagine further publication will happen once I get that data collected and analyzed. That moves planned publications into 2016, 2017, and 2018, depending on how fast all of that data collection and analysis goes (you wouldn’t believe how long it takes to collect 800 email addresses). And that’s not considering the other populations I plan to research for this phenomenon. Factor in some conference presentations based on the research, its methodology and funky statistics (Holm-Bonferroni stepdown pairwise comparison, anyone?), and thinking about how MLS students, academic librarians, new library directors, and those dealing with succession planning can apply the findings to their own purposes…I’m set for the research requirements of tenure review even without considering the other publications likely to result from my work in library instruction and my new research foray into mythological studies. However, I know this is not necessarily the norm. Folks are usually best served by choosing one or two things to focus on so that they can articulate their research agenda, and doing them well.

As I work on finishing the draft of the remaining article-from-dissertation and move on to the next stages of the research, this is what I’m thinking about. What are you working on? What would your recommendations for pursuing a large research project be?