Thursday, April 30, 2009

MMAP Challenge Update April 30: What is a Research Agenda?

I've run into a bit of a block here, what with grading and also not spontaneously combusting from the frustrations of grading (see my previous post for part of the story) taking up all my time. So I have no progress to report for yesterday or today, and right now I have more ungraded papers than I'd like and a stomachache from too much coffee at the end of the day.

We are more than halfway through the Magical Month of Academic Publishing Challenge and while there has been progress, it has not been magical. Moreover, I'm starting to stumble and backslide, just like how a diet goes from exciting and hopeful to boring and hard and you plateau, and before you know it, you've scarfed down two servings of chili cheese fries and convinced yourself they were "diet" fries. I'm going to have to take tomorrow to rededicate myself to the project and get back in touch with the magicalness of it all. I will remind myself that I have done a lot of rewriting and that I am pretty pleased with my new material. Chili cheese fries may be involved as part of this recommitment-to-research ceremony (I just wish that my dieting and bouts of intense writing could work with, rather than against, each other).

But, back to the title of this post, I am also looking ahead to my next project(s). And I may have the wherewithal to put a lot of time towards my research this summer, which brings me to the question of what my next reasearch project should be. What _is_ a research agenda, people? As I plan to make one final try at a permanent gig in the fall, what should I be working on this summer ---- my diss into a book? Another article culled from the diss? Writing a new article from scratch on my diss-related research? Or a new article on non-diss research to show I am more than a "one-trick pony"?

I have no clue what a, much less my, research agenda is. Or if I would need to have a different research agenda for different types of schools or departments. Surprisingly, Google is not helping me --- hardly anyone has defined what a research agenda is.

I found a thread on the Chronicle forums, “Research Program Outline?
- I'm wondering if some of you might share what items should typically go in one's research program (or research agenda).
- Many job positions ask for a discussion of one's research agenda or research program; this is also very common during the tenrue review process (to explain how one's research hangs together). … A statement regarding a research program typically begins with a research question that is central to one's research. What is the puzzle that informs each of the research projects that one takes on?

Second, the statement will justify the significance of this research: Why is this research considered to be important in your field?

Third, the statement might discuss the data that the researcher is capitalizing on to address their research question. What are the data? How have they been collected? What makes these data more appropriate compared to past researchers?

Finally, a discussion would include a description of what the author has accomplished so far, what the researcher expects to produce in terms of future publications. In short, lay out what your production schedule will be over the next year or two; be as specific as possible.
So, that's a start at a definition. But it seems to be saying that a "research agenda" is more about planning out one project, rather than the entire trajectory of your research carreer. Is that right? I had assumed the term meant you were mapping out an arc for your life's work. If "research agenda" = book or project proposal, that's something of a much smaller scope. Maybe I can figure that out.

When I was writing my prospectus, my dept. urged us to model the prospectus on grant proposals or requests for sabatticals, such as the requirements here or here. Again, these seem like book proposals rather than life trajectories.

So have I totally misunderstood what it means to have a research agenda? And would I have the same research agenda whether I applied to research or teaching schools? And can someone please make me an agenda, or plan out what I should be working on this summer for me? Kthxbai!


phoenixcomplex said...

my completely non-authoritative opinion, since I've never hired or been hired by anyone as an academic: totally start something new. New things are delightful, and as long as you're not completely out of your depth ("I just started a critical reexamination of rights discourse in political communities in Southeast Asia... um, on the basis of this thing I read... on a blog...") I think it would be appealing to any potential employers with an interest in your research (as opposed to your teaching). But if people with real experience with this stuff tell you absolutely not to do it, then don't do it and ignore me. However, my love of novelty is such that I'd be happy to talk over possibilities with you via email, should you wish it.

Anastasia said...

if you can articulate a research question that can be pursued in a series of projects, then you are mapping your career. If you can state that question, describe how it guided your dissertation, and then talk about how that same question would guide a further project, then you're both mapping a career trajectory, and limiting yourself to describing the single, next project in some detail.

Dr. Crazy said...

As I think I said when you mentioned you'd write about this (or at least I thought it...), I've often felt like my research has sort of just happened to me. This is where the whole "research agenda" thing gets me down. I often feel like it's a whole "best-laid plans" sort of thing. I have an "agenda" to do one thing, and then opportunities to do things intervene, and all of a sudden the "agenda" is null and void.

With this being the case, I don't think it makes sense to think of the "research agenda" in terms of a "life trajectory" - how can you know what you'll be interested in 10 years from now? With that being the case, I think I tend to think of the "research agenda" as something that probably should fit into a 5-year or so block (say, the time you'll be actively working toward tenure). In other words, a research agenda is probably a bit more than discussing your plans for a book (like I'd talk about related articles that might happen, too, probably), but also much less than a "research in my life" proposal.

I've been thinking a lot about this in terms of how I will frame a request for a sabbatical. Probably I should write more about it at my place rather than hogging your comments.

But one last thing: at my place (a teaching place), when we want to know about a person's plans for research, the biggest thing we want to know is how research connects to teaching. Can you develop courses that reflect your research interests but that are pitched to undergrads? How can you involve undergrads in your research interests?

We don't ask for research agendas in job apps, but if we did, that's probably what we'd want to see. Your research is your research - I don't think you should come up with something totally different for different types of jobs - but you might for teaching places include some language about the connection between your plans for research and how you envision those connecting to your work as a teacher. That could involve publishing related to teaching, but I don't think that it has to do so. YMMV.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and I think I might, if I were you, think about starting something new but related. That will give you a better chance of getting it out for review more quickly, but it also helps to show that you're moving beyond the dissertation, which I think is a good thing to do a year post-degree.

waterkant said...

My 2 cents:
List what you are interested in, i.e.:
- poetry
- 17th century
- name of an author

That could be the span of your research agenda.

Regarding your next project: I would agree to change topics a bit to show that you are a well-rounded researcher. However, I would not change the span too drastically, i.e. while having the above agenda suddenly writing about Inuit poetry in the 21st century (unless you have decided that this is what you are interested in).

Regarding your question about turning your dissertation into a book or culling out another article from it - that depends on your field. I have no idea how important a published book is for the application process, or if more articles in reviewed journals count more.

And this does not solve the question what teaching-oriented schools are looking for.

squadratomagico said...

A research agenda is usually taken to answer the question, "What's next?" At your stage, it usually would include some vision as to how you would revise the diss. into a book, plus some thoughts -- which can be someone vague -- about the topic for your next book. Since, realistically, that covers the next decade at least, that's all you're expected to know about.

As for your question about what to pursue this summer: I'd suggest going with a good tight article that either is a modified version of a chapter; or better yet, something that capitalizes on research you've already completed for the diss, but did not use. If you start something totally new, you may not be able to complete it. Better to go with something that you can make really solid.

Also, one last thought: I know you're dispirited about the market, but you only just received your actual degree less than a year ago, right? I don't think there's reason for such despair yet; many committees just don't look at abd folks. So you've really only had one year on the market at that more competitive, post-degree level.

waterkant said...

squadratomagico raises a good point: if you really have only the summer, use something
> "that capitalizes on research
> you've already completed for the diss,
> but did not use"

Shane in Utah said...

I wish I could see your CV before suggesting what your next move should be. Assuming that you've published a couple of chapters from the dissertation already, you might spend the summer plotting how to turn the diss into a book, and/or writing the book proposal to send to publishers. I think you're better off establishing yourself as an expert in the area your dissertation covered, before moving into a totally new project.

And as others have said above, once you're ready to start a new project, it should somehow grow out of what you've done already: using the same theoretical framework, perhaps, or examining the same political concerns, or whatever.

On the other hand, Dr. Crazy is right that sometimes chance takes your research in unexpected directions. Like, I needed to go to the MLA one year, and I wanted my department to pay for it, which meant giving a paper, so I applied for a panel that seemed like a stretch, but got in, and suddenly found myself having to write on an author I'd never studied before, from another part of the world entirely. But even then, I used the same theoretical and methodological approaches that I'd used in all my earlier work, so even though the subject matter is different, it still seems like a coherent part of my "research trajectory"...

Susan said...

I think for most of us there are a set of issues/questions that continue to engage us in different contexts. The problem for you is that it's not really clear what that is until we're well into a second project.

So at your stage, I might frame a research agenda in terms of the broad problem of which your dissertation is one part. So, your dissertation might be a study of author X in Y framework. But your larger set of interests -- to which the diss is a contribution -- can be either author X, or how framework Y can be used to understand authors like X and do whatever.

Oh, and I'd stick close to the diss for the summer. Maybe focus on an article, particularly, as Squadrato suggests, one that uses material that you didn't fit into the diss. . .