Category Archive: Productivity

Apr 10

Finding Time for Research

In any given week, University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty will attend meetings on such a range of topics that our neural cortex becomes a bit like pudding. By Friday of last week, I wanted a way to redeem the meeting-pudding with which I found my mind filled. The way I chose to do so is by acknowledging the ever-apparent commonality between all meetings; they are all about trying to improve the University. I saw a sub-theme of the scholarship of teaching and learning. It is no surprise; we are under pressure to improve our teaching and our research, simultaneously. It made sense why my thoughts would go there. If you are lucky enough to work in a department with resources and structural systems dedicated to research, this is an easier task to accomplish. For the majority of faculty at UNG, however, we must find the way to make our little domain in this teaching machine also produce research.

Two options exist, the first is break the machine. That is, drop your responsibilities to teaching and service, for a while or indefinitely, if convenient. Making this easier choice would be the incorrect thing to do. For the committed educator, a system where research is supported by teaching, and vice-versa, is the only choice.

The second – and correct – option is to develop a mechanism that attaches a second gear to your place in the machine. This option is vastly preferable to the first. After all, UNG’s goal is to produce quality people. There is no doubt; we are primarily a teaching institution. If our students are not achieving at their highest, we have become irrelevant in our profession.

How I am fighting to be successful with the second option research project?

First things first. Learn.

I’m relatively new to this type of research. So, I keep finding new information that helps me rethink what I am doing. Here are two selected articles that are guiding me in choosing research methods in general and in the writing of a qualitative case-study specifically.

Using Constructivist Case Study Methodology to Understand Community Development Processes: Proposed Methodological Questions to Guide the Research Process is a little thick on the tongue, but the article’s premise is a decision tree about how we chose research models and how to frame research projects. I copied the questions almost word for word and systematically have been working through them on each research topic. The first author, Laucker, is actually a student, and Paterson and Krupa are her advisors. As a teacher education professor, I’m always impressed with explicit modeling of scholarship in the classroom.

Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research by Bent Flyvbjerg, helped shape my thoughts around how case-study approaches would work best as a starting place in my independent research at UNG. It also dispelled some nasty concepts that were holdovers from my PhD training in the biomedical sciences. A light went off after reading this, and I recognized that my role in scholarship is one of empowerment. Using a co-written case-study approach is empowering to our students and makes for a more dynamic expression of classroom teaching. I think almost all faculty have at least one student who is causing them to excel in teaching practices, or who are asking tough questions in class. Work with them and make something bigger from that interaction. More about this idea in Step 3.

Second. Plan.

Organize your time appropriately. , so focus on the crucial tasks of making your teaching process a research process. I have dedicated times in my busy weekly schedule when nothing, except my spouse, is allowed to interrupt. Email and text notifications are turned off. The door is closed. A timer is set. I have only one item on my agenda and I will focus on that one item. When something comes to mind as I work, it gets jotted down for later.  If planning isn’t your strong suit, I highly recommend Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s blog to help focus your productivity. A great recent topic by Noelle Sterne covers 6 techniques to jumpstart writing efficiency and productivity.

Third. Collaborate.

Pick people you think you can work with. Don’t know who that is? Experiment with different people. Tell them the writing relationship is on a probationary period. If your partnership goals haven’t been met by a mutually agreed upon time, it is worth considering forming a different partnership. There are some faculty and students who I have greatly enjoyed talking with, we have similar research interests, but we can’t seem to accomplish anything together. There are no hard feelings; some work habits don’t mesh. No worries. Keep building those partnerships.

In your scholarship, don’t forget that Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (CTLL) is on your side. Everything from helping you form a writing group to working on copyright issues is within their expertise. A quick recommendation from the CTLL blog: Diana Edelman did a piece about the Benefits of Faculty Writing Groups that is well worth considering. CTLL also offers Write@UNG, a faculty development program which focuses on research and writing skills, led by Michael Rifenburg. Check out his blog.

What is most important to remember is that we are all in this together. Every faculty and staff member wants to improve the University. If they didn’t, I’m sure that they can find adequate replacement salary elsewhere. Work as a team and continue to share your passion for teaching. When we are actively engaged in the scholarship of teaching, our students benefit. Make the most of your opportunities.


Sep 02


The Write@UNG is a new multifaceted faculty development program that stretches across five campuses and enriches scholarly productivity through a focus on research and writing skills. Workshops are facilitated by Dr. Michael Rifenburg, Department of English, CTLL Faculty Fellow for Scholarly Writing and sponsored by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership.

Click on the image below to enlarge.


To register, please here to view all the upcoming Write@UNG workshops.

Oct 27

The Benefits of Faculty Writing Groups

Grab your “to do” list. Whether it’s mental, handwritten, or online, the list probably includes grading papers, preparing lessons for the week, and attending committee meetings (among other things). Have you scheduled any time this week for your own research and writing? Most of us don’t, but can we afford not to? As teachers, we spend a lot of time explaining to students the importance of planning their time, particularly in regards to research and writing. We encourage them to understand their role in the academic community, as thinkers, writers, and readers. Some of us even model this process through in-class peer review workshops where students read and comment on each other’s work.

The question is: do we take our own advice? Are we the kind of professors who would be forced to admit that we prefer that students “do as we say, not as we do”? If you are in academia, writing is an essential part of your job—whether you are writing a textbook on quantum physics or a blog about gender dynamics in the media. Before you send that work to a publisher or post it online, do you workshop it with your peers? Do you get their feedback? Do you do multiple revisions, or are you scrambling to pull it together at the last minute because you have so many other duties (not the least of which is teaching)? Quite often, I find that even the best of us do exactly what we tell our students NOT to do—wait until the last minute and/or hover over our desks in the dark of night (as if writing were a solitary process!).

The point is—writing groups are a win-win. Besides modeling the academic community for our students, peer writing groups can help us develop ideas, fine-tune our prose, and keep us on task. We know how easy it is to get “sucked in” to our other duties—teaching, administration, service. Our writing often goes on the back burner, but it needs to become a priority. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen, and before you know it, that article you’ve been working on will gather more dust than you can handle. The most effective way to ensure that you gain momentum (and keep it) is through peer writing groups.

The Benefits of Peer Writing Groups

  • It’s an opportunity to discuss ideas at all stages of development. You know that article is going to get a review from experts in the field before it’s accepted for publication. If you begin that process in a writing group, even with people in different disciplines, they can help you get it ready for a more “official” peer review.
  • Your peers offer a fresh perspective. We have all gotten to the point with a piece of writing where we can no longer “see” it clearly. We need distance and a fresh pair of eyes.
  • You learn about what others are working on. Your colleagues provide inspiration and knowledge (which is the whole idea behind conferences, right?). Chances are your peers will know of a resource that is just what you need at just the right time.
  • These groups facilitate time management because this scheduled time allows you to say no to other things because you are already committed.
  • Your peers provide emotional support and encouragement. Let’s face it. Writing can be exhausting, and we need moral support.

Okay, so, the benefits are clear, but you might be thinking that the logistics are murky. How do we start one of these groups? How often should we meet? Is this going to be yet another meeting to attend? The most important thing to do is to find people who are interested in participating and go from there. Establish your own rules and guidelines based on the needs of the group. There is no reason this should become another chore; it should be fun and mutually beneficial.

The Logistics of Peer Writing Groups

Since groups like this can be created and maintained in many different ways, I will share some basic principles/tips that worked for the group I am currently participating in.

  • Find colleagues who are interested in dedicating regular time to research and writing and want/need accountability. Send an email to your department, bring it up around the proverbial water cooler, or discuss it with others at a conference. These colleagues need not have the same specialty you do or be in the same discipline. They don’t even have to be in the same geographical location. I am in a group with peers on my campus, but I am also in a virtual one with colleagues in other states. They just need to be ready to participate.
  • After you identify some people, schedule a time to meet informally and discuss each person’s goals and what they hope to achieve from the group. From there, determine the following: when, where, and how often to meet; how to track individual and group progress; and what responsibilities members should have. For the group I am in, we determined that we would like to have a quiet time and place to meet simply to be in the same room working on our projects (I call these “moral support” sessions), but at other times, we wanted to share our writing and get feedback. Thus, we determined that we would alternate between writing sessions and discussion/peer review sessions.
  • Once you schedule a regular meeting time, create a calendar and a place to share materials, due dates, and goals. We use Google calendar to allow participants to sign up for discussion/peer review sessions. Once individuals sign up, they can email their work to the group (or use Google Drive or a similar mechanism). We use Google Drive. Participants post their material the night before a meeting (or sometime that week), and whoever has time can make comments. At other times, individuals have brought hard copies to sessions, and participants read and commented on the work verbally or on the hard copy.
  • Although commenting on others’ writing might seem like extra work, it really isn’t. Our group decided that we would not require individuals to comment every time someone signs up for a peer review session. Our guideline is that you comment at least as many times as you share. Thus, group members can participate as much or as little as they need to.
  • Depending on the level of activity of each member, six to ten is probably the ideal size. You want to have enough people to participate, but not so many that the sessions are mostly peer review. You need those “moral support” sessions too. If you have six to ten members, there will usually be at least two or three who can comment and provide sufficient feedback even if others can’t that week. In other words, those sharing get the feedback they need, and nobody feels pressure if they can’t participate that week.
  • I also recommend that the group keep a log of goals and accomplishments (this can be weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever works). Goal setting and reporting are vital. They allow you to quantify your progress (“hey, I worked three hours on that article this week” or “I wrote five pages!”) as well as see other people’s progress, which is always encouraging. Our group keeps a document in Google Drive where each member writes out their goals for the week (which can be anything from “write 5 pages” to “work for 2 hours on Project X” to “read three articles on Project Y”). At the end of the week, we fill in a report, which tells what we accomplished that week. This is done electronically and at the convenience of members who can be as detailed as they want (or not post at all). Again, members do what is going to help them. Sometimes we will meet our goals, and sometimes not, but the trajectory is always forward. Setting smaller, obtainable goals is the key to completing any long project, and this kind of documentation facilitates that.
  • Make sure that you keep this time and space SACRED. Avoid grading, meeting with students, or scheduling other non-research-related activities during this time. By carving out a specific time and place for research and writing, you are free to say “no” when you need to. Your calendar says “unavailable,” and you have made writing a regular part of the week. This is sacred time. For me, a defined schedule helps me to be able to say to students (and not feel guilty), “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t meet on Friday afternoons. I’m in meetings.” This keeps me from “caving in” to every demand and ensures that I reserve at least that much time each week. Our group schedules a four-hour session every Friday afternoon, but people don’t have to come for that entire time. Even if someone comes for only 30 minutes, that’s 30 minutes more than they would have done otherwise.
  • And, finally, take time to celebrate accomplishments. Schedule a lunch session, or bring in coffee and doughnuts one day. It’s great to hear what our colleagues are doing and to pat ourselves on the back for accomplishing our goals.

Regardless of the discipline—from mathematics to art history, from biology to political science—scholarship is the reason you do what you do. It allows you to engage with the material that led you to teaching.

If you’d like some more information about how to start a faculty writing group here at UNG (including grant opportunities), see the following:

This CTLL link also includes a list of electronic and print resources such as Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing and Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s article “Shut Up and Write” from Inside Higher Ed.

Other Resources:

The Academic Writing Club

Designed for graduate students, post-docs, and professors, this web site provides online accountability tools, peer support from academics around the country, and other resources to ensure that you meet your research and writing goals.

The Writing Center @ University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Writing Center provides some excellent advice for starting a group, creating a schedule and establishing workshop guidelines. This site includes a “Writing Group Starter Kit” and other resources for students and scholars.

UCLA’s Graduate Writing Center

Although geared towards graduate students, UCLA’s page, “Running an Effective Writing Group,” provides resources and guidelines that are applicable to anyone who needs to maintain a rigorous writing schedule.


Jan 21

Weekly Work Habits and a Successful Academic Career

We become what we do. Our lives are shaped, in part, by the small choices we make every day.

Thirty minutes a day adds up to two and a half per week (5 days a week).  Over 50 weeks, that’s 125 hours. A good article might be researched and drafted in 125 hours. One article every 12-18 months is good productivity for a state university professor. Imagine if you wrote the equivalent of an article or a book chapter each year. What might you accomplish in a decade?  What might you contribute to your field?

For inspiration and a discussion of how to thrive as a university professor, check out  Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s How to Thrive Amid Academic Chaos in the Vitae area of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Take time to think about your weekly habits.  Are you incorporating time for steadily working toward a productive scholarly agenda? Who will you be in a decade?