Planning your Research Program

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As you move from the role of graduate student or post-doc to the role of faculty member at a four-year college or university, your research responsibilities change. Similarly, if you have just taken a job as a faculty member at a two-year college, you'll be expected to engage in scholarly activities that benefit your students, the college, and the community. Meeting the challenge of this transition requires some active planning and strategic thinking.

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Planning Worksheets

When embarking on a research program, you need to set long-term goals and figure out what needs to be done now to achieve them. If you're ready to start making a 3 to 5 year plan for your research program, here are several methods adapted from the Early Career Workshop activities. Choose whichever format seems to best suit your planning style.

Being Strategic: Examples from Workshop Leaders

When you move to a new institution to begin your own research program, your setting and resources may be different than what you have become accustomed to as a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow. Making the most of your new situation may require some strategic thinking. Here are a few examples of what others have done.

  • Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College, developed a local research program to facilitate class research projects and senior theses research.
  • James Farquhar, University of Maryland, developed a new direction for his research.
  • Elizabeth Ritchie, University of Arizona, recruited graduate students in engineering to work with her on atmospheric science research when there were no atmospheric science students available.

Booklets and articles

Scholarly activity for two-year college faculty

If you teach at a two-year college, chances are that you are not expected to maintain an active research program, but that you are expected to continue to engage in scholarly activities.

Tips from Early Career Workshop Alums

  • If you get on local committees or steering groups for, say, groundwater or wetlands or something, you'll meet the major people in the state DNR, EPA, advocacy groups, etc. This will help you learn what some of the big questions are in your area and who you talk to in order to get involved.
  • Get involved with local geologic survey/associations, etc.; attend regional meetings [to meet potential collaborators, and to find out about local research questions].
  • I found it very helpful to get to know all science faculty in the first semester. By doing this I found faculty members in other departments who have similar research interests.... It helps to check out local colleges and universities to see if there is anyone [you] can hook up with to do research.
  • It is important to establish your own research niche. Often the one that you find yourself in after your PhD. is identified with your advisor(s). Think about what natural tangents you could take from that and try to put that in the context of the existing research at the place you are interviewing [or working].
  • Maintain relevant prior collaborations: There are usually natural connections left over from graduate or postdoctoral work, upon which some straightforward research threads can be built. Go to talks across your university. Ask questions and introduce yourself. A difficult part of this transition is from 'member of research group' to 'leader of research group'. Your potential for the latter is part of why you were hired. Were there ideas you had which you haven't been able to follow up on? Now is the time to devote a bit of time every day (every week?) to following up those ideas. It's good to balance time spent on brand new ideas with time spent on logical next steps following from current research projects. This can take time, so start early and work gradually.
  • My impression is that there are quite a few teaching institutions at which research is done in quite a different setting from where most people get their PhDs. I speak from experience at a small state college that prides itself on giving closely supervised research mentorship to advanced undergraduates. Faculty research here is directed toward providing the most experience for students, and not necessarily toward publication. From my field-based projects I have spun off several related projects on which students work. These projects are suitable for senior thesis projects. I have the satisfaction of seeing students get excited about their research, and in that way stay involved at least in the mechanics of the process. [This is] success of a different form, not often considered in graduate school.
  • One word of advice that I always think back to is to try to always have a research publication in the pipeline (in review or press) and to try to keep consistent in having 1 research publication every year. This keeps me thinking ahead to my next research goal.