Research can mean many things to many people. Some relish the opportunity to explore a topic in-depth and establish well-defined areas of study. Others see research as an end to a means, something that has to be done to move up the ranks.
Think of a college professor and two images usually pop into your mind. One is the professor staying after class, talking with a group of students, the discussion continuing on because the students were so fascinated by what was said during class. The other image is usually of the professor sitting at their desk with books piled high and journals open, not only soaking up knowledge but also writing to share findings with others.
Sometimes faculty members think you are one or the other of the above examples. Either you are an educator, and your teaching effectiveness is the most important aspect, or you’re a researcher, and the depth of your publications is the most important aspect. Educators often think these areas are mutually exclusive areas, when, actually, the two go hand in hand.
We can expand our views through research, which is why many schools require some type of research component for promotion. Research by its nature makes us learn. It forces us to look at new ideas and see those in relation to commonly held thoughts. Sometimes research causes us to re-think what we learned years ago. These expanded views then help in the classroom, enabling a professor to take these beliefs and present them in lectures to allow students to learn up-to-date material. It is an important part of the process.
However, for many professors, it’s not that they don’t understand its importance, it’s the fact that doing research is a difficult task. Some aren’t sure where to start or how to proceed once they do start. Some view it is an either or – “either I spend time with my students and develop my lessons” or “I do research.” But research doesn’t need to be an either/or, doing both will make both stronger.
If you’ve been putting off research, here are a few suggestions:
- Find someone to help you. It might be a colleague nearby or across the country, but find someone who shares similar interests and work together. Oftentimes this collaboration allows professors not only to perform research, but to develop a closer relationship that helps in other areas of teaching.
- Start small. An important part of doing research is seeing that work completed. Too often, topics are too large for a beginning researcher. Break apart the topic and complete a smaller project. Then, when you are more comfortable, increase the scope of your research. The important part – make sure what you start is doable and gets done.
- See what help is available through organizations you belong to or could join. Aiming your research project for a major publication may seem too daunting. If so, look around at state or regional organizations that might publish your work. These groups and organizations are also good ways to find others who are interested in your areas.
- Update your previous work. If you completed a dissertation or thesis, see if you could provide an update. This might be as simple as adding a chapter of new findings.
- Make time. Consider research as important as any other activity in your week. It actually is faculty development, a way to help you become better at what you do, so make sure it doesn’t get cheated in your work week. Consider scheduling a block of free time each week to devote to research. When planning my office hours, I keep a morning or afternoon open each week, and make that my personal development time. To avoid interruptions, consider going to the library during this time. That prevents others from interfering with your research.
- Take advantage of your library. If your school offers a librarian or research aide for your department, let them help in finding resources for you. This helps to maximize your time on task.
- It seems silly, but the final suggestion is to JUST DO IT. Don’t put it off. Start small, but start something and work on it. Set realistic goals to get you through completion. By breaking the project into smaller milestones, you won’t get overwhelmed by a huge project.
Research and teaching go together. The two cannot be separated, and should not be separated. It is important to embrace both to become the most effective educator you can be.
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