What I’ve Learned about Scholarship

Participants in the seminar held last weekend were asked to address how new faculty members can continue to participate in scholarship in the midst of so many demands on their time.

The transition from graduate school researcher to full-time professor is not an easy one. In grad school, colleagues share their cutting edge research and devour and discuss the latest works in various sub-specialties.

When we begin teaching, few people care about our research, our new colleagues are consumed with their own busy schedules, and the demands on our time from a full load of new courses, student advising, and committee responsibilities drain our hope of having anything like a balance between research and teaching.

Here’s what I’ve learned about participating in scholarship in the midst of a busy teaching schedule:

  • Write regularly. Set aside a specific time and stick to it. Don’t depend on an upcoming break to get a project started. If you’re not writing regularly, you won’t write when you get a large chunk of time.  Use breaks to keep writing, don’t depend on them to start writing. I’m in the midst of a busy semester, but I write from 5:00-6:15 each morning. I’m a morning person and that’s the time my brain is freshest. Over the last two months I’ve gotten loads done. Some mornings I write 500-900 words. Other mornings, I touch up a few paragraphs and do some reading toward what I’m writing. In the Spring my schedule will open up dramatically and I’ll have more time. But if I stick to this schedule, I’ve found that I can make quite a bit of progress.
  • You need to protect your writing time because no one else will. Block it out in your schedule and regard it as time that is dedicated and that cannot be taken for student advising or anything else. And if you think you’re being selfish, just imagine that the satisfaction it gives you allows you to give to others your best self.
  • Publish your work from your dissertation as soon as you can. You have lots of options, but get to it as soon as you can. If you wait around on it, you won’t get to it. You can publish it as a monograph, or break it up into articles and re-write the entire argument in a more popular format. But my advice is to publish it in the first year or two of teaching and then move on to a new (even if related) area of research.
  • Keep up with your field by doing book reviews. Aim for about four or five per year. Some journals want short reviews (400-500 words), which allows you to provide a brief overview of the work and perhaps place it in the field within which it’s written. You can easily do several of these throughout the year. Others look for extensive reviews with intense engagement, and you can aim for perhaps one or two a year of those per year. Write to book review editors of academic journals and let them know your interests. Or, if you want to engage a new release, write to a review editor or two and ask if you can review it for them. Book review editors are sometimes desperate for reviewers, so put yourself on their radars and give yourself this great opportunity to keep up with the latest in scholarship.

Any other wisdom out there for keeping up with scholarship while maintaining a busy teaching schedule?

 

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7 responses to “What I’ve Learned about Scholarship

  • Brian LePort

    Tim:

    For those of us who don’t have our PhD yet do you find that there are still many opportunities to do book reviews? If so, do you have any journals you’d recommend contacting?

    • timgombis

      When I was doing my Ph.D., I did reviews for Scottish Journal of Theology, Themelios, RBL, JETS, and a few others. I’d contact Themelios, Trinity Journal, and others that you read regularly and let them know what your areas of research are, interests, etc. They may be very happy to give you some opportunities.

  • John Mortensen

    Hey, Tim. Good post. Younger academics need to know this stuff. I think the biggest obstacle to scholarship is simply that many departments (especially in Christian schools) have no real culture of scholarship. They are completely taken up with offering courses, meeting enrollment, and the daily obligations of running the show. Tenure may be more social than professional. And administrations build in no real rewards for the productive scholars — maybe a decorative piece of lumber at the annual banquet but no real professional motivation. No one ever talked to me about a scholarly/artistic agenda when I started out. I would encourage scholars to set a course of research with or without the encouragement of their departments, though. It’s a lonely road and most of the time they will misunderstand and even resent your work. I once naively asked an older colleague, near the conclusion of his career, about all his publications. “Ahh, that’s something I wish I had gotten to.” He never did a thing!
    Anyway, it’s good to see you reflecting on these issues.

    • timgombis

      Very well-said, John! In many of our institutions, we’re left alone to fend for ourselves and further our own professional development and careers. And there’s much to say about the often nasty social dynamics of professional envy and the long memories and long-cherished bitternesses in academic contexts (even [especially?] “Christian” ones!).

      • John Mortensen

        True. Something I’ve learned over the years: the numerical teaching load of a school will tell you everything about support for scholarship. If it’s a 4-4 load, you are on your own to get any research done. Most CCCU schools would be 4-4. Some community colleges are even 5-5. So, yeah, you get up early and do it because you love it, not because anyone will thank you.

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