Research in teams & groups…when it works!

by Jaclyn McLean
Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

Collaborations can be hard. Successful collaborations are rare (IMHO). I’ve been on teams of different shapes and sizes, and for different purposes since I became a librarian a decade(!) ago. Since I joined the USask Library five years ago, I’ve been lucky to have both the time and the opportunity to do some formalized learning about leadership and team development. I can look specifically to the Library Leadership Development Program (LLDP) and two posts from this blog as a turning point in the way I work in, and set expectations for, collaborative teams.

I could do a bunch of further research into the topic (and I have, see below for some sources I’ve consulted), but I thought I’d rather share my experiences:

  • Take time to plan early in the project: What are everyone’s expectation of timelines, deliverables? What are your goals from the project? If you want to publish an article, is there an outlet in mind? Who will be lead author? Are there roles each member will play on the team (aka note taker for meetings, booking meeting times/places, etc.)?
  • Talk about how you like to work: What makes you nutty? How do you measure success? How about others on the team? Where are your common values, and where are the potential conflicts? Identifying them early makes it easier to talk about them later—remember how I can think clearer if we meet in the mornings? remember how I like to take detailed notes?—rather than having to bring up these preferences in the heat of the moment.
  • Communicate: Talk to each other often and keep good notes. Keep track of decisions about methodology or changes along the way and check in with each other throughout the project to build trust with your collaborators.
  • Admit when you’re going to miss a deadline: do this before the deadline comes. Be understanding when another team member needs some flexibility on timelines too. We’re all busy, and shit happens.
  • It doesn’t have to be all business, all the time: being able to talk about other projects, or things in your life outside the research team not only lets your team members know when you will have reduced bandwidth (e.g., your cat is sick, or you’re going on vacation), but also builds relationships. Working on a team can’t be all about the working—it’s got to be about the team too.

I’ve always been a “get down to business” kind of person when it comes to work. It’s taken some hard lessons for me to remember to prioritize the more social elements of teamwork. They used to seem like a waste of time, time that could be spent getting the work done! I have now learned that making the time to build a foundation with your team and talking about how you want to work before you start doing the work is invaluable.

My apologies to anyone who was on a team with me before I realized this—I probably cut you off, or stifled your ideas, or rushed ahead with the task at hand without considering what you needed from the collaboration. Let’s be honest, I probably still do that sometimes. But I’m getting better 😊.

Further reading:
(if you only have time for one):

Shneiderman, B. (2016). The advantages of doing research in teams (essay) | Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/04/06/advantages-doing-research-teams-essay [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Dunn, B. (2018). Leading a productive research group | University of Oxford. [online] Ox.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/support-researchers/principal-investigators/principal-investigations-blog-pis/leading-productive-research-group?wssl=1 [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Lee, T., & Mitchell, T. (2011). Working in Research Teams: Lessons from Personal Experiences. Management And Organization Review, 7(03), 461-469. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8784.2011.00224.x

McEwan, D., Ruissen, G., Eys, M., Zumbo, B., & Beauchamp, M. (2017). The Effectiveness of Teamwork Training on Teamwork Behaviors and Team Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Interventions. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0169604. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169604

Other excellently informed posts on the topic from this blog:

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/08/22/research-groups-and-the-gift-of-spaciousness/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/10/18/considering-collaborations/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/07/05/a-book-editing-collaboration/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/09/01/co-authoring2/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/06/09/collaborating-for-research-experiences-and-lessons-learnt/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/04/21/co-authoring-shared-work-%E2%89%A0-less-work/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/08/19/to-boldly-go-the-research-collaboration/

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Happy Holidays from C-EBLIP!

by Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by, and so quickly! 2018 saw the first ever C-EBLIP Writing Retreat, where a bunch of writing, researching librarians headed to the Temple Gardens Hotel & Spa in Moose Jaw for 5 days of writing and floating. We also enjoyed having Jessie Loyer from Mount Royal University in Calgary visit us this fall in Saskatoon for a great workshop and a talk entitled On Research and Positionality: Silence, Ownership, and Power. We all learned very much about Indigenous perspectives of research.
Häppy Holidays!
Image by Peter Thoeny (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Brain-Work will be taking a holiday break and returning with new posts in the New Year. On behalf of everyone involved with C-EBLIP at the University of Saskatchewan Library, I wish you a very happy holiday season and all the best in 2019.

Reading About Writing

by Shannon Lucky
IT Librarian, University of Saskatchewan Library

I have been sick for two weeks. Home on the couch, too much TV, never enough tea kind of sick. It has been the kind of terrible cold that makes you unsuitable for human contact and too foggy to do any real focused work but I had so much downtime that I started itching to do something productive (but not too difficult). I decided to try to catch up on all of my unread listserv emails, blog posts in my RSS reader, and articles I had dumped into a “to read” folder that I never have time to open. There was a lot to cover so I decided to do a quick triage, group articles by theme, and tackle the most interesting stuff first.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get through everything. I did wander down an interesting rabbit hole of articles about writing and procrastination – my research Achilles heel. Maybe there is something about having uninterrupted hours of free time (and a low-grade fever) that made all these articles feel very profound and personally relevant, but it was wonderful to have several days to let curiosity and serendipity lead me in many directions reading about how to write more, how to write better, and how to make writing less painful. In the past I have tried many different productivity methods to get more writing done, but this break to read broadly about it and reflect on my own writing practice (or lack thereof) motivated me to make a real change. It reminded me of meeting my trainer at the gym for the first time. She asked me what my fitness goals were and I, clearly not understanding what a normal fitness goal is, said that I wanted to become the kind of person who likes to run. Now I want to do the same thing with writing.

The first thing I should probably do is learn to keep better notes that refer back to my sources, but so much of the advice I read was repeated again and again in the books and articles that I read. Here are a few of the tips that stuck with me and that I am dedicated to trying out:

  1. Read a lot. In quantity, but also different subjects, mediums, and genres. You never know when a newspaper article or novel will make some connecting or spark some new thought. This can work for both the content of your research, but also how you write about it. I have started saving examples of writing that I love and make a point of re-reading it when I get stuck or am feeling frustrated. I have a folder on my computer full of articles, excerpts from books, bios, poems, and comments. Many are not related directly to my scholarly work but the writing style can teach me something about communicating effectively or connecting with a reader.
  2. Write a lot. This one sounds obvious, and it is. To get more writing done, I need to write more. Writing everyday is best, but it is most important to write frequently and consistently. Writing more, especially if the writing is bad. Practice is the only way to get better and the more writing I produce the more raw material I will have to fish the promising bits out of the stuff I never want anyone to read.
  3. Schedule time to write and defend it uncompromisingly. This is one that I have read before and have tried to follow but have mostly failed at. I have a recurring meeting in my calendar during the first hour of my work days for “writing”. This usually translates into returning emails or catching up on something I didn’t get to finish the day before. It is time to find a way to get this time back by treating it as a non-negotiable appointment. I would never skip a meeting with a colleague or a student so I need to start treating this time the same way.
  4. Editing is critical. It is necessary to give yourself some breathing room between writing and editing. Getting over the idea that my writing must be good out of the gate is going to be a process for me. I copied out a few choice sections from Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” about the importance of the “shitty first draft” and her three step editing process: the first draft is the downdraft (just get something down), the second is the updraft (fix it up), and the third is the dental draft where you check every tooth. My key takeaway – leave time for at least three drafts! You cannot do that the night before the deadline.
  5. Writing is research. The process of writing is formative, it is a way of thinking so I need to give it time and attention. There is nothing to gain from rushing through the process to get to the finished product. Barry White (the other Barry White) wrote a great book about thesis writing called Mapping Your Thesis that has great advice about scholarly writing in general. His argument, both encouraging a bit depressing, is that writing creates insight because thinking and writing are inseparable processes. Writing and revising is a recursive process. Recursive processes are not compressible, there are not shortcuts, and writing will always be a struggle.

Now that I am finally back on my feet and feeling human again I am dedicated to taking a new approach to my research and writing. If you have other advice I would love to hear about it in the comments section. If you are interested in checking out some of the writing that inspired this post the following is an incomplete list of my writing advice sources:

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

What I’ve Favourited on Twitter Lately pt. 4

By Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)

I do a lot of liking or ♥-ing on Twitter. Sometimes it’s to acknowledge a tweet or a reply. Often it’s so I can go back and look at whatever is in the tweet in greater detail later. Do I do this? Not as often as I would like. So, I’m going to do it now in front of everyone.

I’m currently working in the Agriculture Building on the U of S campus as liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Environment and Sustainability. So, I’ve upped my game in terms of following Ag stuff on Twitter. I’ve favourited a couple of tweets from the Livestock & Forage Centre of Excellence @LFCE_usask. This state of the art research facility had its grand opening on October 9.

@myleejoseph tweeted a link to an article entitled Using ORCID, DOI, and Other Open Identifiers in Research Evaluation. A timely topic and an interesting read.

@ithinkwellHugh suggests that if you want to blog about your research, you don’t need to create your own blog (who has the time??) but you can contribute to someone else’s blog. Hugh Kearns writes a lot about supporting doctoral students and their research which I find pertains a lot to librarians and our research. Follow him! (you can contact me to get your research out there via Brain-Work any time!)

If you’ve wanted to know more about research data management (RDM) @NewRevAcadLib posted a link to a new literature review on librarians and RDM. This paper has been posted in its accepted version and I hope it’s not behind the T&F paywall.

@AprilHathcock posted two pictures from the 3rd National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. The pictures are the two pages of a selected bibliography shared during a session pertaining to Indigenous research methodologies.

@katelangrell announced that the 2019 ABC Copyright Conference will be held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Save the date: May 30-31.

The Call for Papers/Posters is out for the 10th International Evidence Based Library and Information conference (@ConfEblip) #EBLIP10 Who doesn’t want to go to Glasgow, Scotland in June of 2019??!! You have till November 30 to get your submissions in.

That’s my selection of faves for now. I find Twitter so useful for keeping up professionally and for pushing out information to my liaison areas.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Research about Research: A Plan for Research

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

I have an idea to do some research about research. More specifically, I want to look into the research preparedness of newly graduated librarians working in an academic setting. Being that I am a librarian fairly new to the profession, I find myself thinking about this more and more and I have one big question that keeps coming to mind, “why wasn’t I better prepared”? I knew a lot of about research but not really how to do it.

My current research plan is to survey Canadian library schools’ curricular course offerings looking for mentions of “research”. I will look at the course descriptions and most recent syllabi (where available) for all courses available at the eight MLIS graduate schools in Canada and look for references to “research” and for research-focused courses. I will also look for courses focused on academic librarianship and analyze the course descriptions and syllabi for references to research.

Research is a funny thing and requires a lot of learning; you can learn methods, learn to search for and evaluate information, learn to write for other professionals, learn to collaborate with peers near and far, learn where to publish for the most impact, learn how to take criticism and accept rejection, and so much more. What I find most interesting about research, at least research for academic librarians, is that a great deal of this learning seems to take place outside of the formal MLIS program.

Research is a hugely important part of an academic librarian’s career and yet new librarians can often find themselves struggling to get things going. There are several reasons for this1 but you could see how the excess of learning throws them for a loop. Learning how to work effectively in academia is a whole thing in and of itself, and research can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So what is the solution? That I do not know, but I am looking into it.

We learn so much in our short time at library school but research – the nitty gritty of actually doing it – seems like it is often missed in the formal curriculum. The findings of this survey aim to highlight some of the gaps in the current curricula of Canadian library schools and suggest ways in which these gaps can exacerbate feelings of impostor syndrome for newly graduated academic librarians entering the workplace. As well, awareness of some of the gaps can help professional organizations and institutions provide valuable continuing education opportunities for new career librarians. In loftier aims, it is my hope that this research might eventually help to augment the current MLIS curricula to offer courses specific to academic research.

1Maybe one the biggest issues is that new career academic librarians are often hired into term positions that do not require, nor make time for, research as part of their duties – but that is a whole other rant for another time.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Survey Results and Year 5 of Brain-Work

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice
University of Saskatchewan

On May 15, 2018, Brain-Work featured a post entitled Future of Brain-Work. After 4 years of publishing the blog, we (the Brain-Work advisory committee*) wanted to know what our readers thought and whether or not we should make some substantial changes. Readers were encouraged to take the short Brain-Work survey and many thanks to everyone who did!

From the stark first question (Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish?) to the open-ended “Is there anything else we need to know?” you provided us with useful and thoughtful responses that have assisted the blog advisory group in moving forward with Brain-Work. Here’s an overview of what the survey told us:

Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish? Overwhelmingly, yes, which is a very gratifying response. 91% of respondents said yes, 4.3% said no, and 4.3% said yes, but maybe the format should change.
Brain-work currently publishes every Tuesday. How frequently do you want to read posts on the blog? 47% of respondents said weekly, 15% said every other week, 19% said monthly, and 19% weren’t fussy.
The scope of the blog is broad: research, EBLIP, and librarianship. What specific topic(s) are most interesting to you? After a quick qualitative analysis of the responses, a majority of the respondents read the blog for research: practical takes, research in practice, integrating research work in with library work. The next most popular answer was all – all the topics represented by Brain-Work. Responses were a rather maddening mix of variety and research focus, leaving it difficult to decide if we should take the plunge and become a specifically librarians-as-researchers focused blog. As one participant noted, “There are so many librarian blogs about librarianship as practice. The research angle is unique to Brain-Work.”
• Based on the answers to the question “What kinds of blog posts do you prefer to read?” Brain-Work readers like short, timely articles containing practical, how-to information. Many respondents expressed an interest in research summaries as well.
• The idea of peer-reviewing the blog posts came up so without thinking too much about what that would look like, we asked our readers. 57% said no, Brain-Work does not need to publish peer-reviewed blog posts. 26% said yes, and 17% declined to answer that question. That’s somewhat of a relief, to be honest!

At the end of the survey, we asked if there was anything else we should know. Many of you said lovely things and commended the blog authors for all the work they put into their posts. The diversity of perspectives was also appreciated. And finally, our buggy comments function came to the fore. Believe me, it’s as frustrating for us as it is for you. Sometimes the comment form works and sometimes it doesn’t and the commenter receives a “you are forbidden to comment” error message. Hardly friendly and welcoming! This is a known issue that has no solution that we can find. Our workaround is to have commenters email their comments to me and I will post them on their behalf, providing I’m not forbidden to comment, too, on that particular day. Another way to interact with the blog posts is to comment on Twitter. Both @CEBLIP and @VirginiaPrimary promote the blog posts when they are published and a conversation on Twitter would be welcome.

Because the editor’s assignment has changed (my assignment – I’m the new liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Environment and Sustainability at the U of S), we’ve scaled publishing back to every second week. The focus will remain the same (EBLIP, research, or librarianship). The comment function continues to be spotty, but we are contemplating a change of platforms. That won’t happen until next year now.

So, thank you, dear Readers, for weighing in on Brain-Work. Without the readers and the authors, this blog would not be heading into its 5th year of publication. Thank you for your continued support and hopefully your continued enjoyment.

*The Brain-Work advisory committee consists of DeDe Dawson, Shannon Lucky, and Virginia Wilson.

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

The Responsible Metrics Movement: Don’t Judge Research by the Package it Comes In!

by DeDe Dawson @dededawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

I often rail against the unsustainability and inequity of the current subscription journal publishing system. We have the technology, the money (if we disinvest from the current system), and the ingenuity to completely re-imagine this system (see Jon Tennant’s recent article – it is short and worth your time!). A new system could be entirely open, inclusive, and democratic: enabling anyone in the world to read and build upon the research. This has the potential to dramatically increase the speed of progress in research as well as its uptake and real-world impact. The return on investment for universities and research funders would be considerable (this is exactly why many funders are adopting open access policies).

So, why is it so hard to get to this ScholComm paradise?

It is a complex system, with many moving parts and vested interests. And getting to my idealistic future is also a huge collective action problem. But I think there’s more going on that holds us back…

Have you ever heard of the analytical technique called The 5 Whys? It is designed to get at the underlying basis of a problem. Basically, you just keep asking “why?” until you get at the root of the issue (this may be more or less than five times obviously!). Addressing the basis of the problem is more effective than dumping loads of time and resources in fixing all the intermediary issues.

I’ve used The 5 Whys numerous times when I’m stewing over this dilemma of inertia in transitioning to a new model of scholarly publishing. I always arrive at the same conclusion. (Before reading on, why don’t you try this and see if you arrive where I always do?)

1st Why: Why is it so hard to transition to a new, more sustainable model of publishing?
Answer: Because the traditional subscription publishers are so powerful; they control so much!

2nd Why: Why are they so powerful?
Answer: Because many researchers insist on publishing in their journals.

3rd Why: Why do they insist on publishing in those journals?
Answer: Because they are addicted to the prestige titles and impact factors of those journals.

4th Why: Why are they addicted to these things?
Answer: Because they feel that their career depends on it.

5th Why: Why do they think that their careers depend on this?
Answer: Hiring & merit committees, tenure & promotion committees, and granting agencies often judge the quality of research based on the prestige (or impact factor) of the journal it is published in.

Of course there are many variations in how to ask and answer these questions. And there are associated problems that emerge as well. But, the underlying problem I always arrive back at is the perverse incentive systems in higher education and the “Publish or Perish” mentality. And of course what this tweet says:

Ok, so now let’s ask a “How?” question…

If academia’s incentive systems are one of the major factors holding us back from transitioning to a more sustainable publishing system then… How do we change the incentives?

The Responsible Metrics Movement has been growing in recent years. Two statements are fueling this movement:
The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)
Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics

Each of these statements advocates for academia to critically examine how they assess research, and encourages adoption of responsible metrics (or methods) that judge the research on its own merits and not the package it comes in (i.e. the prestige of the journal). DORA focuses primarily on combating the problem of journal-based metrics (the problems with the Journal Impact Factor are well known), and makes a number of suggestions for action by various stakeholders. While Leiden is more comprehensive with 10 principles. See this video for a nice overview of the Leiden Principles:

Evaluating researchers by actually reading their published outputs seems like an obvious solution… until you are on one of those hiring committees (or tenure/promotion/merit committees, or grant adjudication committees, etc.) and faced with a stack of applications – each with a long list of publications for you to read and assess! Instead, Stephen Curry (Chair of the DORA Steering Committee and passionate advocate in this area), suggests candidates compile a one or two-page “bio-sketch” highlighting their best outputs and community contributions. I recently came across a research centre that is using just such a method to assess candidates:

“…we prefer applicants to select which papers they feel are their most important and write a short statement explaining why.”


From the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology (CMCB)

DORA is also collecting examples of “Good Practices” like this on their website.

In my experience, many researchers are aware of these problems with journal-level metrics and the over-emphasis on glamour journals. It has even been noted that Nobel Prize winners of the past would not likely succeed in today’s hyper-competitive publish or perish climate. But researchers often feel powerless to change this system. This is why I particularly like the last paragraph of the CMCB blurb above:

“As individuals within CMCB, we argue for its principles during our panel and committee work outside CMCB.”

Researchers are the ones making up these committees assessing candidates! Use your voice during those committee meetings to argue for responsible metrics. Use your voice when your committee is drawing up the criteria by which to assess a candidate. Use your voice during collegial meetings when you are revising your standards for tenure/promotion/merit. You have more power than you realize.

Ingrained traditions in academia don’t change overnight. This is a long game of culture change. Keep using your voice until other voices join you and you wear down those traditions and the culture changes. Maybe in the end we’ll not only have responsible metrics but sustainable, open publishing too!

Recommended Further Reading:

Lawrence, P. A. (2008). Lost in publication: How measurement harms science. Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, 8(1), 9-11. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00079

Seglen, P. O. (1997). Why the impact factor of journals should not be used for evaluating research. BMJ, 314, 498-502. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2126010/

Vanclay, J. K. (2012). Impact factor: Outdated artefact or stepping-stone to journal certification? Scientometrics, 92(2), 211-238. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-011-0561-0

P.S. Assessing the actual research instead of the outlet it is published in has implications for the “Predatory Publishing” problem too. Martin Eve and Ernesto Priego wrote a fantastic piece that touches on this:

Eve, M. P., & Priego, E. (2017). Who is Actually Harmed by Predatory Publishers? TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 15(2), 755–770. http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/867

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Librarians helping librarians with research (aka, my experience at the CARL Librarians’ Research Institute)

by Jaclyn McLean
Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Attending the CARL Librarians’ Research Institute (LRI) at Concordia in June was an exhilarating, exhausting experience that helped me solidify my identity as a practitioner researcher and confirm my plan for this coming year, in which I will compile and submit my tenure case file.

I have many ideas and thoughts that I’m taking away from LRI, and it’s so recent that they’re not very organized yet. So here they are, in no particular order:

• Librarians are awesome and so supportive of each others’ work—this experience was about research, but I’ve seen the same thing when we get together to talk about our practice.
• Working in a beautiful, acoustically thoughtful, comfortable space makes everything else you’re doing easier. The chairs in the renovated Webster Library are the most comfortable and ergonomically thoughtful chairs I’ve encountered at any professional event. I wish I’d taken a picture of them, but I did not (luckily, Concordia has posted some great photos on their transformation website).
• We talked a lot about habits of the mind, and I found that a very useful frame for talking about practitioner research, especially the concepts of responding with wonderment and awe and remaining open to continuous learning.
• While we talked about methods and such, I really appreciated the overall framework of the research lifecycle that guided our work (from developing research problems and questions to dissemination and research culture).
• We went beyond qualitative and quantitative and talked about a type of research I’m more familiar with from my background in studying history: conceptual/theoretical. It was pretty amazing to talk about this third kind of research as fitting in with LIS, which I had never thought of before. I had thought that I was more limited now to qualitative/quantitative research as a librarian, with data gathered from participants. It feels like now I’ve maybe got “permission” to go back to my roots and do other kinds of research too!
• Talking about your research with others can help you figure out what to do next, think of a new project idea, or change your direction with a current idea. The opportunity to discuss research with peer mentors and other attendees at LRI was really helpful as I developed a new project and reminded me of the value of talking about research with others.
• We had a morning keynote from Concordia’s Researcher in Residence, Claire Burrows, and her reminder to question what surprises us in our research and also what doesn’t, to dig into those areas and explore those ideas because they can be fertile ground for future research, or inspire a new direction for current research was inspiring.

I’m sure that I will continue to reflect on my LRI experience over the summer, as I tweak my research plan, work on my active projects, and continue to try and find the right balance of research with practice. Opportunities like LRI, by providing the dedicated, safe space to think about research and to meet other librarians who are engaged in and interested in research, are few and far between. If you get the chance to attend, I’d highly recommend it.

Now, I’m off to read one of the books we talked about at LRI, How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia. If you don’t find yourself with enough time to read it yourself, I stumbled across this excellent post about it on The Thesis Whisperer. I’m also going to think some more about my own research specifically, LIS research generally, and how I can continue to consciously build my habits of mind.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

‘Divergent’ Funding Opportunities as Tools for Reflective Research

By Katya MacDonald
Library Research Facilitator, University of Saskatchewan

A few years ago, as a grad student feeling the financial pinch of multiple extended research trips, I stumbled across an informal, seemingly one-off blog post listing funding opportunities across diverse disciplines and regions. I read the whole list, but nothing seemed like a plausible fit. I clicked on one link anyway; it had the word “history” in it. I was working on a history PhD. Close enough?

Not really; the granting agency funded research that dealt with a very specific theme in a very different region that seemed to have little to no bearing on my work. But the society was offering money and it just so happened that I needed money. So, after some hours with coffee shop treats and pieces of paper with a lot of arrows and question marks drawn on them as I tried to articulate a connection to my work, I submitted an application.

To my surprise, I got the grant. But by explaining my work to a non-specialist audience, and by reframing it to suit the (oddly specific) requirements of the granting agency, I also got a revelation about my dissertation that allowed me to be more precise about my process and motivations. Being explicit about these components of my work led me to clearer, more accessible arguments and away from my own initial assumptions. The process of reframing was exactly what my research needed, and in the end I based my entire dissertation on the explanations I developed for the grant application.

I open with this anecdote not because I think anyone really hopes to replicate the experience of being an impoverished grad student! Instead, I want to expand on what this story suggests about serendipity and the broadening of perspective to see the grant as a potential fit. In the remainder of this post, I consider potential ways to “stack the deck” to take advantage of similar opportunities that, because they aren’t readily predictable, probably can’t form the core of a research project, but that can help to clarify or expand it in transformative ways.

To help focus my discussion, I informally canvassed grant announcements in the areas I list below, with librarian research networks in mind and an eye towards funding opportunities that seemed to sit outside of the most common or apparent funding channels. I wanted to think more about to what extent it’s possible and practical to cast a wider net for unexpected opportunities as part of the research process. Here, I’m calling these “divergent” opportunities to reflect the fact finding them often requires taking a different path than usual.

Where to look for divergent opportunities?

– Research and grant communications in adjacent/cognate disciplines, or in disciplines asking similar methodological/ethical/theoretical/practical questions
– Grants and agencies based in other countries that may offer awards with broader eligibility
– Research listservs (e.g. university-specific, H-Net groups, multidisciplinary and discipline-specific)
– Prizes (e.g. for articles, professional activities, conference papers) – these are sometimes structured around broad themes or questions, rather than specific, discipline-defined topics
– Smaller-scale grants or other opportunities may have more flexible requirements and require less investment of time if they feel like a long shot

How do we know a grant opportunity when we see it? (Or, how to think about research to encompass a broad scope of grant opportunities?)

– Research as a story: main plot points probably support the larger/most relevant funding opportunities, but side plots or incidental moments can branch out to additional, supplemental funding
– Identifying themes, questions, or concerns in common is sometimes easier than identifying a topic in common
– Conceptualizing research in terms of its relevance or novelty to a new or unexplored audience
– Describing projects to new audiences often creates new ways of depicting the importance of the research

Why invest time and effort into applications that might seem random or unlikely?

– Doesn’t have to involve a large investment of time: reframing is a way of gaining access to expanded opportunities – not changing the project, just emphasizing different aspects of it to suit broader or more diverse audiences
– Kickstarting a project that lacks direction or momentum
– Building innovative research connections and conversations
– Impetus and support for engaging ideas that might not otherwise comprise an entire research project
– Can serve as catalysts for expanding awareness/impact/scope of existing research
– Small, divergent grant applications can also become conference papers and/or articles

But is it just too out there?

– Applying for divergent grant opportunities is an exercise in determining the difference between non-negotiable ineligibility vs. finding ways to fit within requirements using novel or unexpected framing
– Innovative thinking and strong, well-justified ideas are nearly always welcome even if they don’t end up being fundable in the context of a specific grant

The question above that especially stands out to me is whether or how to justify the time spent on these kinds of divergent opportunities. In my opening anecdote, the eventual benefits were well worth the investment. But particularly given the unpredictable nature of when these opportunities crop up, that may not always be the case. Is it best to consider them as single-dose antidotes to burnout (certainly also the case in my opening anecdote), rather than as regular features of the research process? Or is there room to keep an eye out for a broader swath of seemingly unrelated opportunities as a matter of habit and as a tool for thoughtful research, just in case they lead to new insights and activities?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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