Setting a Research Agenda - From Novice to Expert - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Setting a Research Agenda
From Novice to Expert
Writing as Professional Development

Shortly after a new dean with a background in counseling was hired, he announced that he would be meeting individually with each faculty member to learn about their professional development plans. As he became immersed in his role, however, that plan never materialized. The dean’s time was consumed by meetings, personnel issues, curriculum initiatives, and other administrative duties. Ultimately, professors were left to their own devices in forging professional development plans. This situation is a common one in Academia. Rather than being “told what to do”, the prevailing assumption is, as one administrator so bluntly stated to a group of faculty, “You’re the ones with Ph.D.s in the field and you are smart people. I expect you to figure it out.” A research agenda (also referred to as a Statement of Research Goals or Research Interests) is a way to make a plan and monitor your own professional growth; it identifies the scholarly work that you intend to accomplish in a specified period of time. Rather than writing grandiose, end-of-career, dream achievements your research agenda sets achievable goals. Early in a career, the research agenda helps to identify a research focus and select which possibilities, resources, and opportunities to follow.

Activity 13.4: Setting Your Research Agenda

A common question at interviews for higher education positions is “What is your research agenda?” While it is probable that you have more than one area of interest, there should not be so many different areas that your research agenda seems random or unfocused. Be aware also that there are some political dimensions to this answer. For instance, if you identify a rather narrow interest and it just happens to be the research area of another faculty member, this may be viewed as encroachment on their territory. Take the time to learn more about the research of the members of the department and how your plans would fit in.





Online Tool

Read the practical advice of two University of Washington graduate students in Communication, Justin Reedy and Madhavi Murty, on setting a research agenda at Inside Higher Ed

At various times professors will be called upon to revisit these goals and produce a Research Statement or Summary that represents scholarly accomplishments in a concise form.

There are many variants of this document written for different audiences and purposes. A carefully crafted version of the research agenda often is required for annual review, reappointment, tenure, and promotion; for grant or awards applications; and for web pages or publicity (Argow and Beane, 2009).

Some benefits of a research agenda are:

· Maintaining a focus for scholarly work

· Monitoring progress toward short- and long-term goals

· Discovering ways to be more efficient and productive

· Identify emerging interests and areas for self-directed or formal study

· Discovering interesting connections among projects

· Conducting regular self-evaluation of growth as a scholar

Online Tool

Visit the website of the National Institute for Faculty Equity at Carleton University to review a wealth of information about promotion, tenure, and the research agenda.

In 1990, I was honored to be nominated for the Distinguished University Professor award at my institution that had, at the time about 900 faculty members. As part of the process, I had to prepare a research statement. The difficulty here was that cataloging my accomplishments seemed like shameless self-promotion. My strategy was to speak with those who had earned the award in the past and respectfully ask for their advice. The single, best advice I received occurred when a previous recipient suggested, “show the progression” and graciously offered to share a copy of his document. Your research agenda is a way of documenting that progression toward your scholarly goals (Table 13.3).

Table 13.3

Recommendations on preparing a research agenda or statement

Diversify your goals from the start. Don’t allow everything to hinge on the success of a single project (e.g., a book or one major grant)

Set multi-leveled goals. For example, the majority could be ones that you are almost certain to attain (e.g., two conference proposals), a couple that are moderately difficult (e.g., a collaborative article with a prolific author and an in-house small grant to support research), and some that represent a stretch (e.g., a presentation of research at a peer-reviewed conference and an article in a peer-reviewed journal)

Tailor the statement to the purpose and audience. It will be a very different statement if it is written for your Department, an international professional organization in your field, a university-wide committee, or a grant to be reviewed by community members. Each of these audiences has different background knowledge of your project and the terminology in your field. Be careful to define your terms and avoid excessive jargon

Devote intensive effort to crafting the statement. Just because it is short, that does not mean it is easy to write, so do not wait until the last minute. Set it aside and come back to it many, many times. Proofread carefully because even one error will detract from others’ opinions of you

Seek input on the statement. Ask trusted and accomplished colleagues to be completely honest and critique the statement before submitting it to a larger audience. Heed their advice

Online Tool

At each juncture in a higher education career (e.g., tenure, instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor), it is typical to ask faculty to review their work. Look at the Michigan State University sample letters for faculty at each stage; they are an outgrowth of the research agenda and statement.

One widely recommended way of advancing a research agenda is to institute practices that make it more collaborative, such as writing with a mentor (see Chap. 1, pp. 3—26), writing with a colleague within or outside your academic department, forming a diverse writing team with scholars from other institutions or countries, or participating in a writers’ support group.