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The Balancing Act

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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However, some participating professors conceptualize their jobs differently. Some openly break with the traditional practice of sharply dividing research, teaching, and service from one other. Others go even further, declaring that they themselves can learn substantively about their subjects of study, not only in their research, but also in their teaching, service, and/or outreach.


The posting below describes a strategy for maximizing professional productivity by better linking teaching, research, and service. It is from the chapter Agents of Learning, Strategies for Assuming Agency, for Learning, in Tenured Faculty Careers by Anna Neumann, Aimee LaPointe Terosky, and Julie Schell, in the book Gendered Perspectives in Faculty Roles and Work Lives, edited by Susan J. Bracken, Jeanie K. Allen, and Diane. R. Dean. Stylus Publishing. Copyright ? 2006 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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The Balancing Act

Strategy 1: Integrating as Many Parts of One's Work Life as Possible Around a Substantive Focus That Matters-Professionally, Intellectually, and Personally

Many of the professors in our study talk and think about their work in traditional terms, separating research, teaching, and service as distinct and mutually exclusive. They may, then, couple their own learning as scholars to research while linking students' learning to teaching. In doing so, they decouple their own and their students' learning; they separate the knowledge construction of research from the knowledge construction of teaching. However, some participating professors conceptualize their jobs differently. Some openly break with the traditional practice of sharply dividing research, teaching, and service from one other. Others go even further, declaring that they themselves can learn substantively about their subjects of study, not only in their research, but also in their teaching, service, and/or outreach. These professors may see themselves as learning with, among, and from those they teach and serve. In these professors' views, teaching and learning (subject-matter anchored) overlap, as do the roles of teacher and learner. Distinctions among research, teaching, and service blur at points where opportunities to engage in subject-matter learning (others' and their own) predominate. These professors make room, in effect, for a stream of common content (the subjects, issues, and questions that they care about and seek to learn) to traverse and bind their diverse work activities. Thus they may learn about a topic in one way in their research, in another way while teaching, and in yet a third way while carrying out outreach and service. All these activities may serve as "places of learning" for the professor.

Recalling our interviews with professors who think in this way about their work, we summon up the image of a stream of substantive learning. The shape, content, and current of the stream is unique for each professor. It "carries" different knowledge, questions, and ways of knowing and inquiring. It courses through, and binds, different parts of the academic terrain. For some professors, the stream binds only selected aspects of research and teaching, outreach and research, and so on, but for others, it connects more. Our starkest and most comprehensive example is this: The stream feeds a professor's research, permeates that individual's teaching, and directs that person's choice of service, outreach, and administrative projects, both inside and outside the university. Though the 40 professors in our study vary in the comprehensiveness of such "binding," some do integrate their work thoroughly, making it hard to tell where their research, teaching, outreach, and service leave off and begin. The case of Elizabeth Ferrara is a prime example of a professor who merges research, teaching (including mentoring), and outreach with aims of advancing her own and others' learning.

Elizabeth exemplifies well the professor who assumes agency, through integration, across a broad swath of her academic work. Elizabeth studies gerontology with emphasis on social policy directed at the welfare of the elderly. Over the years, she has successfully merged a well-funded research program, full teaching portfolio, and diverse institutional service and outreach projects she has been deeply committed to. How has she done this? Rather than relying on logistics, organizational schemes, timelines, and other bureaucratic tools to line up her diverse responsibilities, Elizabeth uses content-common questions and issues that she can pursue diversely, but relatedly, across multiple settings of her work: in research groups, in teaching situations including classrooms, in external community service projects, in professional association work, and so on. For example, Elizabeth focuses her research on some large-scale social concerns about the quality of life for the aged in our society. Yet she realizes that these large-scale social issues manifest themselves locally. Her outreach projects typically involve individuals and communities likely to benefit from her unique substantive knowledge of those social issues, and from whom she, too, may benefit from close-up observation. For example, as part of her outreach endeavor, she may observe local policy implementation, or she may design a field experiment that tests two or more competing modes of service provision, a project useful to the site and helpful for theory testing and development within her own research agenda.

Elizabeth folds her scholarly learning, similarly, into her teaching, thereby creating a subject-matter-driven pedagogy that is tied to the substantive concerns of her research and outreach. As she describes her teaching, Elizabeth notes that her outreach to community programs, along with her research on these programs, has reshaped her teaching. She says:

[In my field]?you need to be leaders, you need to be entrepreneurial, you need to be risk-takers,

and if you have them sitting in class, and you are showing a colon, that's the wrong message. And at

the same time, saying it is important to network and it is important to take initiative, so I've

tried to change the rules in my classroom, to encourage students to participate in their own

learning, and to have learning agendas?breaking them into groups, doing role plays, and doing

exercises. And part of that has come from my work with [community groups/health service


As this example suggests, Elizabeth's teaching has developed in response to her learning through her research and outreach. Further, Elizabeth often brings into class her own research problems and cases to help convey conceptual understanding. By looking closely at the details of real cases, students may of their own accord derive underlying principles that otherwise she as the professor would have to present more abstractly through lecture (though sometimes she does). As is evident from this discussion, Elizabeth's teaching draws on her research and outreach, and thus the three-teaching, research, and outreach-are related in her career.

But there is more to be said about what comes of the teaching-outreaching-research linkages that Elizabeth establishes: Not only does she gain for her teaching from her research and outreach, but the converse occurs as well, for example, as she learns substantively from students, both graduates and undergraduates, for her research and outreach. In one of her interviews, Elizabeth described how her research was suddenly jeopardized when the providers of the service she was investigating changed. Given new provider initiatives, her established study design seemed on the verge of crumbling; she stood to lose a number of important study sites. Elizabeth pondered: How might the project be salvaged? One of Elizabeth's students who was familiar with the system at issue counseled her through the difficulty. Elizabeth summarizes this student's contribution to her project as critical: "what he had done really helped us rescue our study." Some time later, the student signed up for advanced research methods courses, and through his learning there, contributed significant strengths to Elizabeth's research team, much as other of Elizabeth's students typically do. She notes, "my expectations are that they [students] become experts in these areas [within her project] and really contribute to me and to the research teams."

While it may not be unusual for professors to learn from students working on their research projects, it is rare to hear professors learning authentically in classrooms-that is, in the context of their teaching. Yet Elizabeth unabashedly uses her classes, graduate and undergraduate, in this way. For example, she refers to a particular teaching experience of hers as "a great course for me to learn [the subject] as part of my [professional] retooling." "The great thing is that there are a lot of books that have been published in the last couple of years, so reading those, and then assigning them was really helpful to me. And organizing the material was very helpful," she explains. Through our discussion, Elizabeth referred also to classroom teaching experiences and reading assignments that have supported her application for and conduct of a state-funded study. She emphasized that sometimes students-in this case, undergraduates-offer invaluable assistance:

There was some voice [i.e., an undergraduate's], and I hardly paid any attention. She [the student]

said, "I think you might find this interesting, and I took it off a website-here it is."So I read

it. It was wonderful?I thought, "She has done more to educate me than my sort of wandering in

the wilderness?just by presenting this material."

Through this brief though substantively important interaction, the undergraduate student and the mature scholar initiated a longer research collaboration, one in which the two learned from each other. Their ability to work together represents an instance of teaching, mentoring, research, and possibly outreach as happening simultaneously.

To summarize, we might view Elizabeth's teaching and research as united through a "mirror effect" of sorts: Her research is reflected in her teaching, and conversely, the content of her teaching and work with students is reflected in her research. Through this mirror effect, teaching and research support each other. As we have seen, Elizabeth sometimes draws outreach into the mix as well. Elizabeth, then, assumes agency by integrating purposefully many of her career responsibilities-multitasking in a sense, positioning one aspect of her work as a resource for another, braiding connections among strands of work such that they meld around subject matter. In Elizabeth's experience, research, teaching, and outreach are intertwined. She enacts, then, a strategy of the crafted career-a purposeful and careful selecting, shaping, and joining that, over time, blend the variety of activity that makes up her career.

In closing, we note that the integrative quality of Elizabeth's career does not come cleanly and clearly to her or to others like her. Her area of study is valued by her university, and thus she is advantaged, yet it is also clear that she actively works at her career, at times moving forward, at others retracing her steps. We might say that in addition to "landscaping" her career-selecting and planting within it, over time, activities that make sense side by side-that often she must weed and discard. Elizabeth, for example, found herself involved in a time-intensive governance activity that, in the end, could make no headway, given the lack of institutional support. Though having invested extended time in the effort, Elizabeth realized that she had to withdraw from it, in order to pursue the full expanse of her work. Elizabeth Ferrara, then, illustrates a strategy of integration and focus that she achieves by attending her subjects of study across multiple work domains.


NOTE: In this chapter the authors also explore how newly tenured professors who face abundant learning tasks strategize their learning with the following question in mind: how to organize one's work life to maximize support for scholarly learning that holds meaning for the professor as learner?