Jenny Baker
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Academics’ Forum: On Creating a Sustainable Research Pipeline

Cindy Maupin, Binghamton University

One of the biggest pieces of advice I received immediately after securing my first faculty position was to make sure I created a “sustainable research pipeline.” Over the past 3 years as an assistant professor, I have continued to hear echoes of this same advice: in response to the pandemic (“You’ll be okay if you have a steady pipeline!”), when reviewing job candidates (“We want someone with a strong pipeline!”), and when talking about my third-year review materials (“Make sure you highlight your pipeline!”). As you progress through the later stages of graduate school and into the early stages of an academic career, creating this “pipeline” of research projects becomes a key goal that dominates your focus. However, there are a number of traps that junior academics might encounter while trying to create an effective pipeline for their tenure goals. So, today I want to talk about advice for creating a sustainable research pipeline that will help to get you through tenure and beyond.

This topic first came to me in a recent conversation with my dear friend, Gouri Mohan, who is also an assistant professor (for the IESEG School of Management in France—and yes, I am totally jealous that she lives in Paris!). As I have mentioned in previous columns, it is extremely beneficial, both professionally and personally, to maintain your friendships with other junior faculty members. Gouri is an excellent sounding board when talking through my experiences in academia, and this conversation was no exception! Together, we crowdsourced the following “dos and don’ts” to help junior faculty members create sustainable research pipelines:

  1. DO have projects in different stages of the research process.
    This is the most common advice we both received from others, and it makes a lot of sense. For example, it would be overwhelming to collect data on all of your projects at the same time. A better strategy is to stagger your projects across different stages of the research process. For instance, you could aim for having some projects in the early stages, some in the data collection stage, some in preparation for submission to conferences and journals, and some that are under review. I find it especially helpful to visually organize my current projects by the stage they are in and then to critically evaluate the balance of my pipeline. Do I have an overabundance of projects in one stage versus the others? Are there any stages that are getting a bit sparse? How do I need to reprioritize projects to keep a steady flow of effort across each research stage? If all of your projects are in the same stage, the workload can quickly become unmanageable. Instead, spreading out your projects across the research cycle helps you to always have the next thing lined up and ready for your attention to keep up your research momentum. That said…
  2. DON’T try to take on too much at once.
    Sometimes we can convince ourselves that “more is better” when it comes to our research pipelines. This trap is especially likely to occur if you also have difficulty saying “no” to opportunities. However, just like during graduate school, there is a lot to balance as an early career researcher. Many of us not only have research responsibilities but also teaching, service, and mentoring roles that occupy our time. So, think critically about the research projects you already have underway before committing to new ones. Is taking on this additional project actually feasible given your current project load? If so, go for it! Just be aware that you will find the limit to what you can handle sooner than you think. On the other hand, if you already feel overwhelmed, maybe you classify some projects into the “not yet” category so you can continue making progress on your research goals. It is important for tenure to get projects out the door and through the publication process, and that can be difficult to achieve if you are constantly beginning new projects without finishing other projects first. Along with balancing the research stages of your projects…
  3. DO balance your authorship positions.
    Experience is a wonderful teacher, and both Gouri and I have learned this lesson the hard way! Balancing your authorship positions is strategically important when creating a sustainable pipeline because your authorship position heavily dictates the time and effort that is required of you for each project. Of course you have to be able to lead some of your projects to show your future tenure committee that you’re capable of pushing forward a research program. However, if all of your projects are ones that you are leading, you can quickly burn yourself out because your full attention is required in too many places at the same time. Instead, collaborating with others and occasionally taking on smaller authorship roles can allow you to contribute to the field in a way that better aligns with the bandwidth you have available. Aligning your projects such that you are the first author on some, but not on others, is a great way to keep up your research productivity without sacrificing your ability to get projects through the publication process. Last…
  4. DON’T forget the “2.5” rule.
    This last tip is especially critical for crafting your sustainable research pipeline: Make sure you plan for each stage of each research project to take about 2.5 times longer than you anticipate. This was advice shared by an amazing scholar, John Mathieu, at a doctoral consortium I attended several years ago, and it has rung true in just about every research project I have ever undertaken. You think you can run those analyses in 2 weeks? Plan for 5 weeks. You think that paper you just submitted can be published within the next year? Plan for 2.5 years. There are so many unforeseen obstacles and challenges that come up during the research process, and in order to meet a hard deadline like a tenure evaluation, it is critically important to plan enough buffer time into your research pipeline to ensure you have time to achieve everything you need to before your tenure case is under review.

Research can be difficult to manage, especially when there are so many strategies for doing so. However, through following these “dos and don’ts,” we believe that all of you can create more sustainable research pipelines and truly set yourself up for success in the long term!

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