Making Time for Research at a Teaching Institution

Elizabeth A. Bennion, Indiana University South Bend, ebennion@iusb.edu

I recently participated in a roundtable on the topic of balancing teaching and research. Here are some reflections on the topic that I hope will be helpful to those struggling to make time for their research while juggling a heavy teaching load.

  • Set aside time for your research. Block off research time, whether that means an hour or two each day, two afternoons per week, or some other schedule that works for you. Schedule this time as you would any other meeting. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Gather that data, review that literature, or get something down on paper during the allotted time. Do not let other responsibilities encroach on this time unless a true emergency arises. Consider putting a notice on your closed office door during your research time, letting people know that you are unavailable and letting them know when you will be available again.
  • Set goals and deadlines. It’s hard for many faculty members at teaching institutions to block off time for research because of the large volume of time required for teaching and service. It’s easy to prioritize what’s immediate.
  • Bring your research into your classroom. Enhance your teaching by providing examples from your own research. This will help students to understand how to support claims with evidence, how to develop a research project, and how to craft a hypothesis and test it using the scientific method. Students should understand how new knowledge is constructed and what makes the study of politics and government a social science. This approach to balancing teaching and research won’t give you more time for research, but providing clear explanations of the research process strengthens both teaching and research.
  • Bring your classroom into your research. If your institution recognizes the scholarship of teaching and learning as a form of scholarship, or your situation gives you flexibility to do research that counts toward teaching excellence, consider expanding your research agenda to include pedagogy research. This is an excellent way to use your research skills to improve your teaching while also publishing work that helps other teacher-­‐ scholars to improve their teaching and maximize student learning outcomes at many institutions.
  • Employ a research assistant. Hiring a research assistant or supervising a for-­‐credit independent study is an excellent mentoring opportunity. Work-­‐study makes this an affordable option for many faculty members, including those without graduate students. Do not underestimate the value of a hardworking undergraduate student. Students can be used to update spreadsheets for large-­‐N and multi-­‐ site research projects, to conduct
    This essay is part of the Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List

    literature reviews, to code data or provide a second coder to assure inter-­‐coder reliability. There are many mutually beneficial ways to work with a research assistant. If your RA is particularly useful, consider co-­‐authoring the final manuscript.

  • Create a student research team. Faculty can form their own research teams and run these teams as for-­‐credit research seminars. This could be a topical seminar designed to tackle a large research project or an applied research project supporting the scholarship of engagement. Whether hosting a weekly news program, running a service-­‐ learning program, or conducting needs assessments for local organizations, a student research team can prove to be invaluable.
  • Identify faculty collaborators. Don’t under-­‐estimate the value of co-­‐authors and collaborators. Collaborators can bring different skill sets to the table and provide accountability for continued progress. Working with editors and co-­‐authors provides an opportunity for regular feedback and encouragement. Use conferences to network with people who share your research interests. These are people who can become co-­‐authors, co-­‐editors, or collaborators on future research projects. It’s always easier to stay on schedule when you have a co-­‐author or editor asking about progress.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Give yourself permission to prioritize different things at different times. Perhaps you had to focus on teaching and service this semester. That’s okay. Figure out a way to re-­‐double your scholarly efforts next semester or during “breaks” from teaching. Perhaps you had an unusually high number of personal demands on your time this semester. It’s okay. Ideally, a faculty member’s career is long. Don’t expect to be the best teacher, best researcher, and most active public servant on campus at every stage of your career. There may be times when you have to prioritize teaching, research, or administration, at the expense of other areas.
  • Prioritize based on institutional requirements. This advice above is fine for tenured professors, but tenure-­‐track professors should beware. Know the standards by which you will be evaluated and be sure to meet them. If you are behind schedule with your research, you’ll need to block off specific times for course prep and turn down extra service opportunities. Stick to the time allotted rather than allowing your course prep to fill the entirety of your workday.
  • Don’t confuse prep time with teaching effectiveness. Remember, the person who does the work does the learning. Consider ways to reduce your prep time while maximizing student time on task and learning. Sometimes the more material a professor prepares, the less time there is for active learning. Simply delivering content is not the same as teaching effectively. If you find yourself spending all of your time developing lectures, consider rethinking your teaching strategy. Your students will likely learn more, and you’ll finally have time to finish that article you’ve been meaning to write.

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