Dear Graduate Scholar: Research While Visiting by Dave Peterson

Dave Peterson is currently in a visiting assistant professor of Theatre at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. He has previous taught at Colby College in Maine, and earned  his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. Dave has directed in a variety of genres and has taught classes in performance, directing, theatre history, and script analysis. His research areas include contemporary theatrical clown practice and directing pedagogy.

I have been visiting faculty at two institutions over the course of four years. In this time I have attempted to balance the myriad, but common concerns: teaching, service, scholarship, job searching, personal life, etc. It has been vital to make sure I am living my life (personally and professionally) and not “waiting” for the tenure track to start. Professionally, it was most useful to remind myself of this principle in relation to my scholarship. There are variety of reasons to keep up one’s scholarship. You need to maintain professional contacts, you may enjoy it, you may feel that your contributions are important to the field or beyond, and it helps you get another (hopefully more permanent) job. I want to talk about some things that became clear to me as I attempted to maintain my scholarship while in visiting position.

The first thing was prioritizing time in ways that actually help my long-term ability to maintain employment. Your teaching load maybe large, the school may not be factoring in research as part of your compensation, and you need to be searching for other jobs. There is also that business of maintaining your life outside of work. I found it was important to look at how I was spending my time at the school. Teaching was a given, but service work was trickier. Different visiting positions have different expectations concerning service, but they may not be high. One institution even told me that I was not expected to attend full faculty or school meetings. There were also times in which the department would say I did not need to come to a meeting. There can be temptation of going to meetings, I can even half convince myself that if I am just around enough I will magically become tenure track faculty. This is almost always not true. You of course want to position yourself as a good colleague, but no matter how much someone likes you this is almost never the reason a visiting turns into a full time gig. Be smart about how you spend this time, and do the research. Scholarship is far more likely to help you get a job than being one of a hundred people at a large meeting. If your goal is to eventually get a tenure track position, invest your time where it is most likely to help, your research.

I also found myself being more selective about conferences. I used to go to ATHE, ASTR, and MATC most years. This was expensive, but as a graduate student I had access to college travel funds, discount student rates, and student loans. Once I was faculty I had less resources to attend all of these, especially when they were far away. I started to make strategic choice about how far away the conference was, how it might benefit my research, and other factors. I have been fortunate enough to have travel funds while in a visiting position, but it really only covers one conference a year. Again, be honest about what is going to benefit you right now. Based on your salary and resources certain conferences at certain distances might not be worth it. Making these choices also helped me clarify my priorities as a scholar.

There are smaller things that occurred to me over the last four years. I tried to find as many places as possible to double-dip research and class prep. As visiting faculty, you can be prepping many new classes, so it makes a lot of sense to have these preps overlap with your research areas as much as possible. Also, try to find people you can commit to research deadlines with. Maybe this is a digital writing group, maybe an on campus-writing group, but since you will have many deadlines, making yourself accountable to other humans to get research done will help make research a priority. Further, let your teaching, job search, and changing interests direct your research. I found that portions of my dissertation spoke more strongly to me over time, and other portions I cared less about. I also found I was more willing to make the time if I was passionate about the material.  Finally, don’t wait for things to slow down or settle in to start your research. In my experience, things never slow down. If you start by waiting for stability, the year might be over.

There are many personal and professional pressures associated with a work environment that might seem unstable. This being said, having a visiting position is an incredible resource. You have access to academic libraries, hopefully some travel funds, usually an office, and co-workers that understand the challenges and demands of your career. While it can seem like there is little time for research, there are few other full time modes of employment that are better suited to doing the research. Make use of the valuable resources afforded by this position.