Thinking About Research

Thoughts that may be helpful to researchers (especially those in the UTA College of Nursing)

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Funded and Non-funded Research

August 12th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Have you heard the story about the faculty member who wanted to do research, but couldn’t, because he/she did not have a grant. She/he also wanted to get a grant, but couldn’t because he/she didn’t have any research.

In this issue of Thinking About Research I want to talk about how you can do research, even if you don’t have a grant. Specifically, I’ll give some examples of work in which I have been involved that used Qualtrics Survey Software to conduct web-based surveys and some additional work that involved secondary data analysis using national data sets. Survey research and secondary data analysis are types of research that you can do; and you don’t need funding to do it.

First, let me make it clear that when I use the term “research” I do not mean, “let’s collect lots of data, because if we have a lot, surely it will tell us something.” I do mean a thoughtful, systematic investigation to address a specific research question and add to our body of knowledge.

Many research projects can be conducted with little or no funding. For example, surveys can be conducted with little or no cost, but still address important research questions. Our College has a Qualtrics license that gives every faculty member, every staff member, and every student in the College the opportunity to have his/her own account and conduct web-based surveys. For those of you who haven’t tried Qualtrics, it is about time for you to open your account and give it a try. This survey software is similar in some ways to Survey Monkey, only it is more like Survey Monkey on steroids. It allows survey researchers to do some pretty amazing things and although it clearly enhances your performance as a researcher, you won’t have to worry about a 200+ game suspension for using performance enhancing research tools.

We recently completed a three-university study concerned with religiosity and the health behavior of college students. We used Qualtrics. Several papers have been presented at professional meetings. One manuscript is in review and a second manuscript is in development. Part of the project was the development of a new measure of religiosity that taps into the intellectual dimension of religiosity – an aspect of religiosity that is rarely measured. Members of the research team have spent a considerable amount of time on the project, but it has been doable, without external funding. We have had several conversations with an NIH program officer about our work. NIH has a program announcement concerned with the impact of religiosity on the health behavior of young children. When the project was just an idea, the NIH project manager suggested we submit a proposal to NIH. We did. It was scored, but not funded. When we received reviewers’ comments concerning our proposal we had already progressed from the idea to an actual study. Again we visited with our program officer. She indicated that once we publish a few articles from the study we will be well positioned to submit a proposal for a longitudinal study.

We also completed a survey of school counselors along the U.S.-Mexico border region. The purpose of the study was to gain feedback from counselors regarding the cultural appropriateness of our Keep A Clear Mind drug education program for use with Hispanic children and their parents. Qualtrics allowed us to copy and paste actual portions of the Keep A Clear Mind program into the questionnaire. This allowed us to actually show counselors the program rather than just tell them about it. We have presented two conference papers based on the survey, a journal manuscript is in the works, and the survey results will be used in the revision of an NIH proposal to address, in part, reviewers’ concerns about the cultural appropriateness of the program.

If you want to do research, but aren’t interested in conducting your own survey, you can access data sets from thousands of national studies to conduct a secondary data analysis. UTA is a member of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. This gives faculty access to over 500,000 different data sets, a number of them directly concerned with nursing or health care issues. Do the research, without collecting the data – what could be easier? Ok – so it’s not easy, but you can do some pretty cool things with secondary data analysis, and it’s a lot easier than if you had to go out and collect all of the data yourself.

A number of years ago I was part of a secondary analysis of a wave of data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Our paper was titled “Correlates of adolescent sexual behavior, contraceptive use and pregnancy: Results from Cycle III survey of family growth.” I presented the paper at a conference on a Saturday. On the following Monday a story about our study was on the front page of USA Today. We have also used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Education to use eighth grade variables to predict later teen pregnancy, and data from the National Planned Parenthood Poll, to make a strong case for the benefits of sexuality education.

The point of all of this is to convince you that even if you don’t have a grant you can still conduct research, publish some interesting research articles that may make a substantial contribution to the literature, potentially attract national media attention, even impact public policy, and set the stage for securing external funding. What more could you ask?

But isn’t funded research better than research that is not funded? Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. External funding can allow the researcher to take on projects and do things that simply would not be possible without the funding. This does not necessarily mean better or more important projects. Funding does allow the researcher the freedom to develop and test interventions and in many ways to go beyond the limitations of web-based surveys and national data sets. In the rating of research universities and our quest for tier one status, external funding is extremely important. Publications are an important research product. Strong publications make a contribution to the literature and can garner substantial citations, help faculty to achieve national recognition, and convince funding agencies that the researcher is a good investment. It is, however, the actual research expenditures that count in moving an institution to tier one status.

Here’s the take home message. Be an active researcher. Of course we want you to secure external grant funding, but it is also possible to do research, publish your results in scholarly journals, and make important contributions without funding. Instead of saying, “I want to do research, but I don’t have a grant,” say “I will do important research even without a grant, and establish a research track record that will increase my chances of securing research grants.”

I’ll talk more about funded research and the grant process in future issues of “Thinking About Research.” In the meantime, if you decide you want to get started on Qualtrics or in doing a secondary data analysis, but need a little help, let me know. As always, please feel free to add comments or questions.

Michael Young

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Research and other (scholarly) stuff

July 4th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Several years ago when I was teaching a graduate research methods course, I passed out an article I wanted us to discuss. This was a newly published research article that had a lot of problems. I continue to use it as example of how not to do research. The class assignment was to read the article and come to the next class meeting prepared to talk about the problems in the study related to internal validity.  The next class meeting I began class by saying “Last night while I was swimming I was thinking about some of the problems with the study I gave you last time.” I couldn’t help but notice that a number of people in the class were snickering, and a few were laughing out loud. When I asked, “What’s so funny?” the answer they gave was, “You really think about this stuff all of the time, don’t you?” My answer was “don’t you?”

What is research?

I do spend a lot of time thinking about research. That’s my job. Hopefully, most of you reading this will also view research as at least a part of your job. It may be important, however, to provide some definition or framework, for what we mean by the term “research.” I think of research as a systematic means of investigation in some field of knowledge. It is a way of coming to know. For our purposes, think of research as coming to know something new, within your field of study.

As a student, when you went to the library (or accessed the library or other sources on-line) and found articles in order to write a term paper, were you doing research? When either as a student or a faculty member you did a review of literature, were you doing research? You might say, “I learned a lot of new things writing that paper or conducting that lit review and I worked really hard. Of course I was doing research.” Here’s a different perspective. Making use of the library and understanding the professional literature is an important part of the research process, but it is not research, per se. The information you gleaned from developing a term paper or conducting a literature review may be new to you, but it is not new information. It was there, in that journal or book, waiting for you to come along. The people who did the study, whose findings were reported in the article you read, are the ones who generated the “new “ information. They were the ones doing research.

Often researchers speak of the process and product of research. The process refers to the steps one follows in conducting research. Research is characterized by an objective orderly and systematic approach. The product includes the findings of the research project. It may include an invention or a new way of doing things. Researchers, especially those working in academic settings, also view publication of their work in a respected scholarly journal as an appropriate and important product. In fact, publication is something of a litmus test. Some scholars go so far as to say: “If it wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal, it didn’t happen.” Okay, it may have happened, but publication validates that happening. It allows the researcher to make a contribution to the professional literature. In some cases the research findings may have far-reaching implications, validating the impact of new interventions, and impacting professional practice, and/or public policy.

Other (Scholarly) Stuff

Most faculty who publish, and I hope all of us will develop the habit of publishing, publish the reports of research findings, but may also publish other articles, some which may be related to research, and others which may have little or nothing to do with research. Two of my articles, which appeared shortly after I started at UTA in November of last year, are good examples. The first, published in the Journal of School Health with George Denny and Joseph Donnelly was titled “Lessons from the trenches: Meeting evaluation challenges in school health education.” The second, published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education with Rebecca Palacios and Tina Penhollow was titled “Measurement and design issues in the study of adolescent sexual behavior and the evaluation of adolescent sexual health behavior interventions.” Both articles were very much related to research, but they fall under the heading of what I call “other stuff.”

Not everyone thinks there is a place for these types of articles. I do. There are many topics that can make for great articles – a teaching technique you use in the classroom, how you use simulation to enhance students’ clinical skills, or your viewpoint on a professional issue. I think everyone knows something or is doing something that could be shared in a professional journal. I hope that all of us, including clinical faculty, will take the time and effort to put our thoughts on paper and turn them into journal publications. Remember these publications are not research articles, but they can be a nice complement to our research, and can make a professional contribution.

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Designated Research Faculty In the UTA College of Nursing

February 15th, 2013 · Uncategorized

In my most recent post I talked about research productivity and time. We all have the same 24 hours in the day, but we each allocate those hours in different ways. For us to increase our research productivity we may need to make changes in the way we allocate our time. Instead of taking care of all of our other responsibilities first, and then trying to take care of research in the time we have left, we can schedule some time for research first, and then address our other responsibilities.

Like many other things, however, this is easier said than done. One way the College can help is in the way workloads are allocated.

As faculty in a University we are responsible for our research productivity, but not everyone in the CON has to have the same research load. In addition to research, we must also meet our teaching responsibilities. With an enrollment of 8,000 nursing students, that’s a lot of teaching – but not everyone has to have the same teaching load. It seems to me that the best strategy to meet both areas of responsibility is to play to our strengths. Our faculty are great teachers, but some aren’t that interested in doing research. They can focus on teaching. We have other people who are very interested in doing research. We can lighten their teaching load and give them more time to do research.

Our CON 2012-2017 strategic plan includes a mechanism for doing this by establishing “Research Designated Faculty.” Here’s what it says:

“Research designated” faculty “are self nominated individuals who commit to meeting the scholarship goals set forth in the College of Nursing Strategic Plan and are approved by the CON administrators for such designation. Those persons with this designation will receive a reduced workload commensurate with the scholarship activities on a semester-to-semester basis and will be accountable for scholarly products to which they have committed. A reduced workload will be based on existing UTA workload guidelines for faculty as specified in the University of Texas System Handbook of Operating Procedures.”

The addendum of the strategic plan highlights the scholarship responsibilities by rank, as attached.

According to the strategic plan, research designated faculty are expected to:

(1) have an active, ongoing, funded, research program, and

(2) publish a minimum of two data-based publications annually.

Here’s my view. These are not onerous expectations for someone who has been on the tenured/tenure track situation for a few years. Faculty who are new to research or who have never had a workload reduction for research, however, probably cannot be expected to immediately have a funded research program, but instead should initially have a plan for developing such a program. Then they should show they are working their plan and making clear progress:

• Establishing a research program.
• Conducting research.
• Submitting one or more grant proposals.
• Developing manuscripts.
• Working with others, who are experienced researchers, who can also provide some mentoring.

Tenure-Track Faculty

I think all tenure-track faculty should be research designated faculty. They should have an active on-going research program, and show that they are “pursuing” external funding. Actually securing a substantial grant as a “principal investigator” prior to a tenure decision may not be absolutely necessary, but it would certainly be helpful. Instead of requiring at least 2 data-based publications every year:

1. Publish an average of at least two data-based publications per year over any three year period;

2. Publish additional scholarly work that may not necessarily be data based.

Tenured Faculty

Tenured faculty members have a choice as to whether or not they want to be considered research designated faculty. Those who do choose this designation should have a funded program of research.

Funding
Continuous funding, i.e. the faculty member always has at least one grant, would be great. It may be more realistic to expect that while they may not always have funding that:

1. Over a rolling period of time – say 3 years – they average a given amount of external funding (e.g. $50,000/year), and

2. Each year they are applying for one or more substantial grants (e.g. at least $100,000/year) that includes both salary savings and indirect costs.

Publications
Similar to expectations for tenure-track faculty, I would like to see tenured faculty

1. Publish an average of at least 2 data-based publications per year over any three year period,

2. Publish additional scholarly work that may not necessarily be data based.

3. Publication of articles in highly regarded journals and articles that are highly cited or receive other national attention is always a plus.

Faculty on the Clinical Track

Generally, we tend to think of tenured and tenure-track faculty members as our researchers, but non-tenured track faculty can also do research. In fact, because we have a relatively small number of tenured and tenure- track faculty, then at least some clinical track faculty will need to make research contributions if the CON is going be seen as a major player, relative to research productivity, on this campus. Any of our full-time faculty can ask to be considered for designated research faculty status.

If you are interested in being considered for designated research faculty status for the 2013-2014 academic year, let me know asap, but no later than March 1. If you are interested in pursuing this designation, but think 2014-2015 may be a more realistic time-table for you, that’s fine. Let me know that as well.

Teaching loads for the fall semester are being finalized, so we really need to hear from you now. You should also:

1. Update your “profile” on the UTA Profile System so we will have a current record of your research accomplishments and

2. Submit a 1-2 page research plan letting us know the projects in which you plan to be involved, the manuscripts you plan to develop and submit, and the grant proposals you plan to develop and submit.

If you on the tenure-track, you will have designated research faculty status, but please also update your profile and submit a research plan.

If any of you need assistance formulating plans, making connections with potential research partners, identifying possible funding sources, or anything else related to research, let me know. I’ll be glad to help.

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Thinking About Research

January 30th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Among my several plans related to research productivity, one is to share, from time to time, some of my thoughts about research. Some of what I have to say will be specific to the College of Nursing. Other information will be more general. Hopefully, these writings will be informative and helpful to you.

Major parts of the job for an associate dean for research are to encourage and facilitate research within the college, to solve research related problems, and to build research partnerships across the campus and beyond the university. One of the things I have done since arriving at UTA is to meet with a number of faculty members to discuss their research interests. Understanding what you have done, what your interests are, what you hope to accomplish, and what you think you need, will help me do a better job of helping you. If you want to talk (or talk again), let me know so I can get on your schedule.

Last September when I interviewed for the position someone asked me what I was going to do to increase the research productivity of the college. The message conveyed was that increasing research would be largely my responsibility, and not something in which other faculty would necessarily have  much of a role. My answer was something like “If you think that I, or anyone else, is going to come here, wave his or her magic wand, and produce a huge bump in research, then you are in for a disappointment. I can help, but if we want to increase research productivity, that is up to all of us. If everyone does the same thing they have always done, then we are going to get the same result – and no real increase in research productivity.”

That apparently was not the response the interviewer expected. She asked, “Our plates are already full, and now are you expecting us to do even more?”

I had to say, “The University expects, and I will expect, that as a college we will produce more research. For some individuals that may mean doing more. I suspect, however, that for most people that will probably mean doing something different.”

What I meant was the total hours we spend working may not change much. For us to see a substantial increase in research, however, some of us may need to make a few changes in the way we allocate those hours. When it comes to research many people (and here I am not specifically talking about faculty members in our college, I am including faculty members across the country in a variety of disciplines) do not show up for work, or they come in late and leave early. I don’t mean people fail to work. Most people work hard and put in a lot of hours. I mean tasks other than research always seem to take priority. If we take care of all of our other responsibilities first, and then try to address research, the week will be over and little related to research will have happened. Then it will be the end of the month, and then the end of the semester with little progress made in research.

If we want to increase our research productivity we must do it on purpose. It won’t happen by accident. Set a few goals as to what you want to accomplish. Allocate some time, on a daily basis, to move your research forward. If that is something you have not been doing and you begin to make research part of your regular work schedule, you will make some real progress. If we will all make at least small increases in our research productivity, then college wide the increase will be substantial.

If you need help, or just want to visit about your research interests, or what the college might do to better support your research, let me know. I look forward to visiting more with all of you.

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