You’re wrong. Here’s why.
Getting completed work out the door should always be at the absolute top of the to-do list of junior tenure-track faculty, without exception. It should come before teaching, administrative, doing new studies, eating, sleeping, or even taking a … whizz.
In the comments section, I defended myself by playing the mommy card…my previous paper was submitted mere days before Minnow was born. And I’ll grant that you conceded that babies come first. But I’ve found myself still mulling over the comment because it is so antithetical to the way I’ve carried out my first year as a faculty member.
First, you suggested that research come before teaching. I’d argue that it depends a great deal on where you work. Administrators have told the new faculty flat out that at Mystery U, it doesn’t matter what sort of research superstar you are, if you are continually sh*t in the classroom, you won’t get tenure. Maybe that’s just lip service, but I suspect that if I were to routinely show up to classes and announce that I didn’t have any lecture material prepared because I’d been writing a paper, I wouldn’t even make it through my current three year contract. So, let’s agree that there is some non-zero level of time and effort that must be put into teaching, ahead of research. We might disagree on what that level is, but I think we can agree that it exists. I’d argue the same holds true for administrivia/service. I’d also argue that eating, sleeping, taking care of bodily needs, and not neglecting my child are also necessities that will, at the very least, allow me to continue to function as a researcher (and keep me out of jail). I think here you were making a rhetorical flourish.
Those points put aside, let’s talk about the real issue on which we seem to disagree. In the finite amount of research time available, how does a junior tenure-track faculty member prioritize their time? You suggest that writing the papers comes ahead of any other part of the process. I’d advocate for a more holistic approach that recognizes the importance of publishing completed work, but also respects the research pipeline.
In my field, I don’t write a paper by sitting down at a computer and starting to write out of the blue. First I design a project, then I do it, then I analyze the data, and then I write the paper. Usually there’s also one or more rounds of begging for money, reading the relevant literature, revising hypotheses, doing additional experiments, pondering what the whole thing means, etc. I’m no expert on physiology, but I suspect that it’s broadly similar.
Given that writing a paper depends on having done most or all of the previous steps, I think it’s an awfully dangerous approach to ignore the rest of the research pipeline while cranking out a couple of papers left over from previous work. For a tenure-track faculty member, we not only have to show that we can publish our research but that we are developing a research agenda independent of our PhD and post-doc advisors. In my limited experience, I’ve found that it is usually a two-year+ process between forming the research question and writing the paper. (Maybe it’s faster in some fields, but the moment you introduce field work into the equation, everything slows down.)
If I had spent my first year on the tenure track writing and revising papers from my PhD and post-doc, in my second and third year I would have had nothing to publish. I go up for contract renewal in my third year, and personally I’d rather appear to be gaining speed than coasting on the laurels of my PhD.
So what did I do with my time this year? Fall semester, I wrote two proposals (one successful, one that got good reviews and will be resubmitted), made major revisions on a paper from my PhD (now in press), finished data analysis from a post-doc project and presented it at a meeting (a paper-writing trip is on the horizon), and did my initial lab set-up. Spring semester, I’ve revised the last chapter from my PhD (waiting on co-authors), networked like crazy to generate ideas and funding local to Mystery U, pushed pushed pushed to get the rest of my start-up money and get my lab really going, and made substantive progress on a new research project (including recruiting a student). Oh, and on top of that, I’ve taught 10 credits with two new preps, carried a substantial service burden, raised a wonderful daughter from 6 months to 15 months, and dealt with some serious crap in my personal life.
As a result, I’ll have two-three 2008 papers from my PhD work (one is a low-order authorship), two 2009 papers from my PhD and post-doc, and by 2010 I’ll be publishing stuff produced in my time on the tenure track. That should easily be enough to get my contract renewed, and if I can keep up the pace, it should be enough to get me tenure.
I’m not out to be a research super-star, I’m out to be a good mother, a good mentor, and a good person while doing a job I love. I’m betting that slow and steady will win the race and that taking a holistic view of the research pipeline will serve me just as well as only focusing on taking care of drafts in the word processor.
But, physioprof, thanks for prompting me to really think this over. And, hey, I guess in a few years, we’ll see who’s right.