“Talking Points” May 2014

Kay Irie and Rachelle R. Meilleur discuss issues and events of interest to the LD SIG

Valuing Time for Research

Rachelle: Hi Kay! Well, it’s been hectic, that’s for sure! There’s so much to do when starting a new job in a new city with a new group of students. Like you, I am trying to figure things out day by day, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. It’s good, though, as it forces me to shake things up a bit when it comes to teaching, and, as it happens, research.

Kay: Well, I was looking back at what we talked about last month about my case study research. It is an ongoing struggle to find the time to keep the project going. It is easy enough (and fun!) to interview the participants regularly and collect the data. But I really have to make an effort or force myself to keep the interview notes, and code the transcribed data. Sometimes I feel that research (and writing!) gets put on the back-burner and left there for so long that it becomes difficult to pick up where I left off. It takes so much energy! I sometimes even regret being so ambitious with research projects and I feel I would never be able to write it up or present it. Do you ever get that feeling, Rachelle? How do you balance your teaching, admin work, and research?

Rachelle: And don’t forget a personal life as well! I would like to think that this is something that most teachers struggle with, and that there is probably no real way to balance them all equally. At the moment the immediate issue for me is preparing the syllabus for four different courses, in addition to numerous other admin duties. Research is still very much on my mind, but the reality is I probably won’t be able to do much about it until second semester, at the very earliest. However, we do have the opportunities to join research groups here, and I have found myself attached to one. Luckily, it’s in a research area that I am interested in, but haven’t pursued in recent years. I am hoping that it will provide more of an opportunity to learn more about my colleagues and my students, and perhaps provide new ideas for me going forward. The “publish or perish” fear that keeps most teachers going is, unfortunately, a real one, although I have to admit that it has been the primary external motivator for me to get research done. However, like you, I am sometimes too ambitious in my research attempts, and this has resulted in some less than spectacular results at times, either because I did not do enough at the beginning or at the end of the project to make it really sing. In a way, I think I would appreciate the type of mentoring we get during graduate work, where a supervisor is responsible for making sure that not only things are done the right way from the beginning, but that we follow through and meet certain deadlines. Perhaps this is one of the results of being teachers–we are so used to giving deadlines to students, but are not as good at making and keeping them ourselves.

How about you, Kay? What motivates you to keep doing research?

Kay: It is very difficult to discipline ourselves as researchers and writers when we are so busy with other things in life, isn’t it? One thing I found very helpful and rewarding is having co-researchers or collaborators. Most of my recent projects are in collaboration with other people. I’ve co-edited several publications, including the anthology project emerged out of our very own LD SIG get-togethers, Realizing Autonomy with Alison Stewart. The case study we talked about last month as well as another L2-self study using Q methodology are both done with another researcher. The great thing about carrying out research with other people is that you can share the workload, and you can often complement each other with your own strengths and weaknesses. You tend to be more responsible and stick to the schedule, as you don’t want to let your partners down. You mentioned that you would appreciate a supervisor or mentoring. Once you are out of school, it is difficult to get that kind of support, isn’t it? But you can create a relationship that is more reciprocal than what you got in school by collaborating with others and joining the research groups at work or communities like JALT. Having you as a dialogue partner for this blog is something I enjoy doing. I wouldn’t have agreed to do it alone!

It is too bad that the co-authored publication is not as valued as single-authored ones in the hiring process though. But you can always discuss with your partner and allow yourselves to write independently focusing on different aspects of the same study in addition to the co-authored paper or the data. Then you can read each other’s papers. That’s what I’m doing with a Q methodology study. I carried out a study with another researcher, we wrote two papers together, and I’ve just finished writing one by myself.

But of course my co-researcher gave me a lot of feedback on the writing which was very helpful. He is also working on a presentation that he will be doing alone. I prepared the data that he needed and will be helping him prepare the presentation. It’s working out well.

Rachelle: That does sound great! Wouldn’t it be great if all teachers could collaborate with peers on that equal footing? I agree that working with peers can be very rewarding. I’ve found that in my own experience, having collaborators really helped with organizing our research questions and study into forms that were accessible to others. In addition to helping me keep on track with deadlines and other work, it’s also useful to have people around to provide support. I also find it unfortunate that co-authored publications are not as valued as highly in academia. I think the key is, as you said, to not only work on the collaborative project, but to tie in an independent study related to it as well. Or perhaps to work on smaller projects, like being an active member of a SIG, or blogging, or using other forms of social media to connect with peers. I know that this dialogue has been a very rewarding experience for me so far! So, getting back to your original questions, how do you find the balance between professional work and everything else?

Kay: As for balancing my professional work and private life, when my daughter was small, it was very difficult to actually even do any research. I don’t think I did anything for about 5 years after I finished my dissertation. I was too burned out. That was when I had started working fulltime, too. I simply didn’t have time or energy. When I finally started doing the case study, I was still having a hard time finding time to sit down and concentrate on my work. Then I read Harry Wolcott’s Writing Up Qualitative Research. Do you know that book? It is such an accessible and helpful book that motivated me to start not just to write but to value the time to do research. One of the first suggestions he makes is to respect our own writing-related idiosyncrasies: what it takes us to sit down, start, and keep writing. I can’t write when people are around me at home or music is on. My study “corner” was open and part of the living room as I wanted to be close to my family when I was writing my dissertation (maybe that’s why it took me so long!). But I realized I wasn’t being too productive there. So I created another study corner in the bedroom where I can shut the door to create a space to think, read, and write. Sometimes I feel bad for not joining the family fun in the living room but they also know that I have something I need to get done. And when I’m done with one project, I try to spend more time with them.

Rachelle: I haven’t read Wolcott’s book, but what you said does remind me of Susan Cain’s Quiet, where she argues that most people (introverted or not) need some quiet time to think and be creative. I’ve always been that way myself, and thus have struggled over the years in shared offices with anywhere from two to ten teachers! Usually my best work is done when I can work in an empty office, which usually means coming in early, staying late, or coming in on the weekends. I suppose I could work at home as I don’t have a family to keep me distracted there, but there are plenty of other distractors out there! However, my preference over the years, has been to keep work and personal life separate, so I’ve tended not to bring work home with me, unless absolutely necessary. That being said, in my new move to Kyoto I’ve set up a kind of quiet office space in my apartment, and it complements the somewhat chaotic space of my university office. I’m hoping that it will aid me in my quest to get the research gears in motion once again. I think that the key to finding balance is just accepting that sometimes work and research issues will take precedence, and that at other times, personal issues will take over. I think it tends to equal out over time, although we may not feel that way when we are in the throes of a paper deadline!

Kay: And sometimes it’s important say no and not feel guilty in our professional and private life so that we don’t overstretch ourselves. Right. I guess we should wrap this one up, too then!

As always, we would love to hear what you think and how you manage to balance research, teaching, and everything else in your life. We also hope you will take advantage of opportunities for collaboration that LD SIG can offer.

References:

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Wolcott, H. (2009). Writing up qualitative research (3rd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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