What faculty really need: Time


What faculty need doesn’t always translate into what administrators think faculty need.

Administrators overseeing faculty, who do their jobs well, find ways to help faculty do their job better. With respect to research, I imagine that administrators want to increase the quantity and quality of student research, increase the number and quality of publications, and increase the funds coming into campus. At many places, of course, the latter reigns supreme.

What should faculty get to make these things happen? What we need, more than anything else, is time.

Sure, organize a grantsmanship workshop for us. Okay, pay for me to go to a conference. It is useful to have an allowance for supplies. I get to hire a student work with me? That’s very nice. I get a little stipend if I submit a grant? That’s okay, I guess.

All of those things are for naught unless I have the time to make things happen.

The basal necessity for all faculty to get research done is having the time to do it. Without that foundation, don’t even bother doing anything else.

Though some consultants make their living telling people how to write grants, a workshop won’t make you write a great grant. That skill is acquired by writing grants, serving on panels, and collaborating with people who are great grant getters. Those things take a lot more time and focus than a workshop. A workshop is a start, maybe, but unless it’s backed up with time, it won’t result in a great grant.

Working with students takes plenty of time. Writing grants, collecting data, and writing manuscripts takes plenty of time. If you were to ask most of us what we need, we’d probably put time at the top of the list. That’s probably true for everybody in academia, regardless of field or how much money we have. Either we have lots of money and need the time to do the work we planned, or we need the time to write the manuscripts and grants that are necessary to bring in money. Either way, time is always at a shortage.

I understand why administrators might be reluctant to give reassigned time to faculty to do research and mentor students. It seems against the mission of the institution to pull the out the batters from the top of the lineup so that they can leave the classroom to work with fewer students. Also, there’s a pull to be egalitarian in the distribution of resources even though some faculty will waste the time given, and others will be productive. So, time can’t be given out willy nilly. But if you really want faculty to deliver, find the ones who will do solid research and give them the opportunity to do so. (Tip: the ones who will deliver in the future are the ones who have already shown the ability to deliver.) Some people will never deliver, no matter what they get. Some already deliver, and will deliver better with more time.

Time is money. And faculty time, compared to other things, isn’t cheap (though it’s cheaper than it should be considering how poorly paid adjuncts are). If you have quality faculty doing excellent research and teaching, then giving them the opportunity to allocate some of that teaching time to research/mentorship is what will deliver.

8 thoughts on “What faculty really need: Time

  1. On our campus, service work eats up a huge amount of time because of the relatively small size of our faculty. In addition to reassigning time from teaching, administrators and T&P committees should also consider grantsmanship and mentoring as service to the university and reassign those responsibilities accordingly.

  2. “With respect to research, I imagine that administrators want to increase the quantity and quality of student research, increase the number and quality of publications, and increase the funds coming into campus.”

    I submit this assumption is incorrect at many PUI institutions. Consider that …

    – giving you time ‘off’ for research sets precedence (“well, /Bob/ got a reduction in course load!”) for faculty who have no chance or real interest in obtaining external funds with indirect cost.
    – giving a strong researcher more time often removes a strong instructor from the classroom that has been covered by temporary appointments. Chairs typically don’t like this.
    – the actual number of $$$ rolling in is relatively small relative to the effort, particularly at schools new to the game. E.g., the cutoff for NIH R15 AREAs (academic research enhancement awards) is now at $6M university-wide funding pa, and funding rates have dropped accordingly.
    – as you say, a typical research lab reaches very few students. I can supervise two students per semester (I want to keep the good ones, of course), and handle a few occasional hangers-on. A journal club in my free time also draws in a few kids. I am writing an R15 app right now, and my chief concern is increasing the ‘reach’ of the proposed grant beyond 4 students/year. (Suggestions welcome.)

    • I suspect that you misread something into that quote. At EVERY institution, administrators want more student research, pubs and funding. Of course they do!

      At many PUIs, though, admins prefer faculty to stay in the classroom full-time, as you point out.

      The point of the post is that when faculty who teach full time, if you throw all kinds of stuff at them but still expect them to teach full-time, that there still won’t be that much research.

  3. There are reasons to not be on twitter. One reason, though, to do so is that sometimes posts generate useful conversations that don’t happen in the comments. (Like a couple of them on twitter at the moment)

  4. “Time is money.”

    Actually, no. Time is worth far more than money. At my school (and yours…), the university is more than happy to give you time, provided that you pay for it (usually, it is assumed, by adding the needed funds, along with the associated indirect costs, into the budget for your grant).

    In my field (physics), the funding agencies strongly discourage this practice. My funding agency, the Dept. of Energy, recently had a “comparative research review”, where they had all the funding recipients present the status of their research programs, and talk a bit about how their research was going. During my presentation, it came up that my university did not provide “release time” [sic] for research. When asked why this was, I (truthfully) mentioned that the university expects me to receive “extra” funding to pay for such time. The funding agency took a different view, that it is expected that the university will grant such time in support of my research program. I was literally told that “real universities will give you the time for research.”

    This point of view is not unreasonable. After all, they don’t pay for reassigned time at the R1 schools; why should they pay for it at mine? All that does is make me a less cost-effective researcher. There are still some good, solid reasons to fund schools like mine instead of (well, in addition to, really…) the R1 schools, but I still have to contend with not having enough time to do the work I’ve planned to do. With careful time management, it works. Until my school makes a more serious committment to my research, however, I won’t be seeing any increased support from the funding agencies.

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