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Facilitating Research Productivity


Facilitating Research Productivity 2009 Senior Leadership Retreat, August 17, Allerton Park John Unsworth, Dean Graduate School of Library and Information Science – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Facilitating Research Productivity

Facilitating Research Productivity
2009 Senior Leadership Retreat, August 17,
Allerton Park
John Unsworth, Dean Graduate School of Library
and Information Science
What is research productivity?
  • The answer to this question depends, in different
    ways, on
  • Faculty members discipline
  • Faculty members rank
  • Standards and norms of the unit
  • How one facilitates research depends, in turn,
  • whether or not that research requires external
  • whether there are common research interests
    shared by groups of faculty, and
  • whether the research requires expensive or
    specialized infrastructure

Productivity and Discipline
  • In GSLIS, we have faculty from humanities, social
    science, natural science, engineering, and other
    doctoral backgrounds.
  • Faculty participate in very different research
  • For some, the conference paper is the most
    important genre of research communication
  • For others, it is the journal article
  • For others, it is the book
  • Some co-author with colleagues and/or students
  • Others tend to publish solo
  • Some require significant funding to do their
  • Others need time more than money

Productivity and Discipline (an example)
  • One faculty member, from a computer-science
    background, benefits from having a good-sized
    group of doctoral students, because those
    students are partners in his research, and he can
    accomplish more with a research group than he can
    do alone. When there are research results, the
    faculty member co-publishes with his students.
  • Another faculty member, from a humanities
    background, enjoys working with doctoral
    students, but each additional student is in some
    sense an impediment to her research, because she
    does research and publishes alone, so her work
    with students is for their benefit, rather than
    for mutual benefit.

Productivity and Rank
  • Just as we have different expectations for
    service according to the rank of a faculty
    member, we should have different expectations for
  • Senior faculty may sometimes take on research
    funding that will help to advance a large,
    multi-institutional project, and may specifically
    advance the careers of doctoral students or
    junior faculty in research terms, whereas for the
    senior faculty member the benefit has more to do
    with leadership, or it may have to do with
    building an institution, establishing a standard,
    providing an important resource, or in some other
    way providing a service to the research community.

Productivity and Rank (and Discipline)
  • Junior faculty should be encouraged to compete
    for external funding, when doing so can advance
    their own research agenda and produce the kinds
    of results that will get them tenured. Under
    these circumstances, they should be encouraged to
    pursue funding even if the norms of their
    research community dont value external funding
    for its own sake.

Productivity and Rank (and Discipline)
  • On the other hand, junior faculty should be
    discouraged from seeking or accepting funds that
    obligate them to significant amounts of work that
    would be counted as service rather than research,
    and they should be able to clearly identify the
    grant deliverables that will count as their own
    research accomplishments. This skepticism with
    respect to external funding should be encouraged
    even if the norms of their research community
    value external funding for its own sake.

Standards and Norms of the Unit
  • We all understand that research productivity is
    measured relative to others in the field, but it
    is also measured relative to others in the unit.
    In an interdisciplinary unit, this may raise some
    interesting challenges. For example
  • Faculty members who do research that does not
    require significant external funding may feel
    that their work is undervalued by the unit, in
    comparison to the work of colleagues who bring in
    external funding.
  • Faculty members who do research that requires
    external funding may feel that the time they
    spend with students, in developing and leading a
    research group, is not recognized as teaching,
    because the instructional activity doesnt take
    the form of a course delivered for credit.

Facilitation of Externally Funded Research
  • There are some basic support services that make
    it easier for faculty who seek external funding.
    Some of these are more generally part of the
    operation of any academic unit, and some are
    unique to research operations. General services
  • human resources
  • purchasing
  • fiscal services
  • information technology support
  • Although these services are generally needed in
    any unit, in certain situations it may make sense
    to have specialized versions of any of them, in
    support of research.

Facilitation of Externally Funded Research
  • Research-specific support services include
  • identifying opportunities for funding
  • developing grant budgets
  • working with the universitys institutional
    review board and the office of sponsored research
  • submitting proposals
  • managing projects
  • ensuring regulatory compliance
  • providing periodic progress reports to the funder

Research Administration
  • This second group of research-specific support
    services may be organized under administrative
    leadership, usually an Associate Dean, at the
    level of a College or School, or sometimes under
    a Director, in a large department. It is
    important that this person be a faculty member,
    in order to have credibility with other faculty,
    and in order to understand faculty perspectives
    and needs.
  • Reporting to this associate dean or director may
  • Fiscal and administrative staff
  • Research faculty/scientists/programmers
  • Project managers
  • Center directors

Research Centers
  • In situations where a number of faculty have
    research interests in common, it may make sense
    to organize support for their activities in a
    center or institute. The advantages of doing
    this include
  • Managing specialized facilities or resources
  • Developing specialized expertise among support
  • Creating a mechanism for sharing (and funding)
    support staff across a number of related projects
  • Providing an institutional context for individual
    projects (which can make proposals more
    competitive and funders more confident)
  • Integrating research and teaching in a
    programmatic way

Research Centers
  • Some centers exist within departments, but many
    are at the college or campus level, and provide
    support for faculty research across a number of
    different disciplines. These interdisciplinary
    research centers tend to be more common and more
    numerous in science and engineering than in the
    humanities and the arts social sciences are
    reasonably well represented in places like
    Beckman, the Information Trust Institute, and
  • The humanities are supported by the Illinois
    Program for Research in the Humanities, and
    Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and
    Social Science, and NCSA.
  • The arts have some support from NCSAs Institute
    for Advanced Computing Applications and
    Technology, as well.

Facilitating Research Without External Funding
  • Some research activities require little or no
    external funding, and some disciplines have very
    limited opportunities for funding. But even when
    research can be done without funding, it almost
    always can be done better, faster, and more
    thoroughly with funding. For example, even in
    traditional humanities research, some travel to
    libraries, archives, or museums may be necessary,
    as is some released time to read and write, and
    occasionally the purchase of specialized library

Improving Research Outcomes
  • Facilitating this kind of research may mean
  • improving the quality of the final product
  • decreasing the time it takes to produce it
  • increasing the likelihood of its publication and
    the scope of its dissemination
  • assisting with rights, permissions, contracts,
  • Some of this can be accomplished with
    appropriately trained office staff, and some with
    student research assistants. Some may require
    institutional funding, if external funds are

Support from the home unit and the OVCR
  • Existing mechanisms like sabbatical leave are
    intended to provide time for research, and
    faculty who take sabbaticals are expected to
    report on the research outcome of their time off.
    The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
    also runs a Humanities Release Time program, for
    one-semester teaching release.
  • Most units offer some travel funding, but in hard
    times that funding may decrease or disappear
    especially in disciplines where research grants
    are rare, though, it would be wise to retain
    travel funds. The OVCR also offers Scholars
    Travel Funds, and faculty should be encouraged to
    seek these out.

Support from the home unit and the OVCR
  • Research assistants can help not only with
    library research but also with source-checking,
    proof-reading, copy-editing, and other things
    once done by publishers. Faculty should be
    encouraged to apply for Research Support Awards,
    from the OVCR, to pay for research assistants.
    These awards can also pay for equipment, travel,
    publication subventions, and other
    research-related expenses.
  • Faculty in the performing and visual arts and in
    design-related disciplines can apply to the
    OVCRs Performing Arts and Design program, for
    funding to cover costs related to creative
  • Finally, the OVCR has, in the past, run a
    Research Scholars program, to support research
    activities of faculty spouses and partners. Im
    not sure if this program is planned to continue.

Research Always Costs Something
  • Although the scale of funding needed varies quite
    a bit from the humanities to the social sciences
    to science and engineering, there is really no
    research activity that happens for free. As a
    general rule, internal funding of research (by
    the home unit, the OVCR, etc.) should be
    positioned and understood as start-up support for
    activities that will go on to seek external
    funding. Even in disciplines where external
    funding is unusual, it is available, and it can
    enable more ambitious, more collaborative, and
    more interdisciplinary research endeavors. It
    can also help to engage students in research

Concluding Observations
  • We have generally good support for research at
    Illinois, at the campus level, but research
    administration and support varies quite a bit
    when you get to the department level, and it
    varies quite a bit across disciplines. It pays,
    in many ways, to provide good service and support
    for research.
  • Research is a core activity for faculty in all
    disciplines, and so every discipline and unit has
    established research paradigms. Nevertheless, it
    is worth questioning those paradigms
  • It is ultimately the quality of the research
    outcome, and its impact, that matters. If we get
    too accustomed to letting funding stand for those
    things, we do our junior faculty, in particular,
    a disservice. On the other hand, if faculty
    never seek funding, certain kinds of research
    will never happen.
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