Planning the development of your research profile

There are two constant questions you can expect to hear if you work in the higher education sector. The first comes from students and is something along the lines of: ‘What is the assessment in this course?’, ‘Is there an end of semester exam?’ or ‘Is this going to be on the test?' The second comes from academics and goes something like this: ‘How am I supposed to be able to do any research with all the other things I have to juggle?’ This article concentrates on the second question.

Yes, there is a lot to juggle. As an academic you will be involved at various times in new course writing, course reviews and redevelopments, the delivery of curriculum to students in maybe more than one mode, that is, online as well as face to face, in student consultations, marking, postgraduate supervision, reading and answering emails, faculty meetings, university committees, assorted administrative and management tasks, mentoring of junior staff, sourcing sessional staff, community engagement… just to name a few!

How can you possibly fit research into such a busy schedule?

Research can be pushed to the margins and end up as something you do in the evenings, on weekends and during holiday periods. However, as an academic (unless you are a teaching-only academic), you are generally measured on your research output for promotion purposes and your overall standing in your discipline so it is critical to retain a focus on advancing your research. Besides, research is also a very rewarding endeavour to engage in.

Thinking long term

It is important to view the development of your research profile as a long-term plan. This includes setting realistic goals, staying focused and being strategic. For example, work out where you aim to be in, say, five years’ time and plan accordingly.

You may aspire to go for promotion. This takes careful planning and is something normally realised with a considerable lead time of at least three to five years unless you already have a strong research profile and good supporting evidence about your teaching and professional service. You need to be able to demonstrate a coherent trajectory of research achievement over a few years and projected quality research output for the next few years ahead.

Your goals and what you set yourself to achieve could be very different to what someone else sets. Everyone’s situation is a little different. Consider your situation and arrive at what you can realistically achieve. Don’t set yourself up for failure!

Write down somewhere what you are going to do and by when. For example, publish two single-authored refereed international journal papers and prepare one external grant application over the next two semesters. Writing it down and posting it up (maybe in a few spots) can help keep you focused.

Although it may be exciting to research a diversity of topics, to go to certain conferences in exotic locations and to be approached by a textbook publisher to write a textbook, the significant question you have to ask yourself is – do these count towards building a credible research profile?

It is important to become known as a leading expert in an area – not only nationally but, eventually, internationally. In fact, it is an expectation for promotion to full professor in most universities. You have limited time, so work out what your research profile is going to look like and be strategic about who you research with, which journals you publish in and which conferences you attend. This may entail saying NO to certain projects and people.

Seek out successful colleague researchers and ask their advice about how best to apply for external research grants, or how to get entry to publish in certain journals, or which conferences you should attend because they have highest standing. Ask them to look at your profile and output and provide honest feedback about what you should or could do more of and-or less of.

Network with colleagues in your field nationally and internationally and invite them to co-publish. Think cleverly about how you can work towards multiple outputs from your research through your collaborations.

Link teaching and research

Connecting your teaching and research is also an advantageous approach. Your time is best used if your teaching and research are NOT poles apart. You were employed because of your expertise in a discipline area. That area is likely your passion also. So, connect as much as possible your teaching and research profile. Demonstrate that you bring contemporary research in the area to the course(s) you teach, which can only benefit students.

Likewise, supervise postgraduate students in ‘your’ research area. There is research to support the fact that active researchers who infuse teaching with their own research create a more vibrant and pertinent teaching-learning experience for themselves and their students.

Share with your students the research you are engaged in and demonstrate its value and contribution to knowledge. It is a valuable, authentic teaching-learning experience and students will respect that you are at the cutting edge of your discipline. You never know, you may learn something new or be provided a fresh perspective to your thinking from bright, talented, enthusiastic students.

It can be a struggle to successfully juggle the teaching, service, management and research activities expected of you as an academic. An essential key to successfully managing the myriad of responsibilities and ensuring research happens is to have a plan and stick to it.

Dr Nita Temmerman is a former university pro vice-chancellor (academic) and executive dean of the faculty of education at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. She is currently chair of two higher education academic boards in Australia, visiting professor to Ho Chi Minh City Open University and Solomon Islands National University, as well as invited specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, invited external reviewer with the Oman Academic Accreditation Authority, registered expert at the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and a published author.