Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

How the Best Young Professors Research (and Why it Matters to You)

September 18th, 2014 · 26 comments

newfacultyLounging in Lauinger

Today I spent the morning in the library. As often happens, I arrived with a specific book in mind, but soon a long trail of diverting citations lured me in new directions.

I’m a sucker for libraries.

One such happy discovery was the book, The New Faculty Member, by Robert Boice, a now emeritus professor of psychology at Stony Brook. This book summarizes the findings of a multi-year longitudinal study in which Boice followed multiple cohorts of junior professors, at multiple types of higher education institutions, from their arrival on campus until their tenure fate seemed clear.

(He also wrote a non-academic version of this book called Advice for New Faculty Members, which I haven’t read, but assume is similar in its conclusions.)

I was particularly drawn to his chapter on research productivity. It turns out that Boice hounded his subjects on this topic year after year. He didn’t trust self-estimates of work accomplished and instead required the young professors to produce newly written pages to verify progress.

After four years, only 13% of these professors had produced enough (and had good enough teaching evaluations) to make tenure seem highly probable. Here are some of the main differences Boice identified in the research habits of these “exemplary young faculty” as compared to their peers:

  • The exemplary faculty did not wait for “ideal” times to write.
    As Boice explains: “waiting for ideal times such as binges induces more than mere uninvolvement…[i]t can also bring procrastination and dissatisfaction.”
  • The exemplary faculty instead maintained a regular writing habit.
    As Boice explains: “[they] pay close attention to regiment…[those who] did not establish a regiment of writing regularly did not establish productivity.”
  • The exemplary faculty put thought into how to be more productive.
    As Boice explains: “[new faculty] would do well to take more notice of knowledge, usually untaught in open systematic ways, about survival, including self-management.”
  • The exemplary faculty looked for outside help in improving their academic productivity.
    As Boice explains: “The quick starters depicted here, unlike their counterparts, were proactive in soliciting collegial advice. They were quick to dismiss the idea that they had to figure out the subtle rules of productivity on their own.”

The advice in this short but dense guide is undoubtedly useful to people like me who are young professors hoping to inch into the exemplary category. But I noticed that Boice talked a lot about how his subjects struggled with both the autonomy and loneliness of their position — in which much is expected but little guidance is provided.

These seem like obstacles common to many entrepreneurial endeavors, which leads me to speculate that many of Boice’s findings should resonate well beyond the Ivory Tower. Put another way: if you replace above the word “write” with whatever verb captures the core value producing activity in your own entrepreneurial endeavor, Boice’s findings will likely seem suddenly quite relevant.

26 thoughts on “How the Best Young Professors Research (and Why it Matters to You)

  1. Chris says:

    Every book you touched should have the sticker “Cal touched this” attached so people can follow your trail of your obsession of becoming great.

  2. Tormod says:

    Advice for new faculty members is an excellent book. I actually thought about recommending it to you after having read it, but thought you surely must’ve come across it since it resonates so strongly with your work.

  3. Nitin Puranik says:

    Good recommendation, Cal. Added to my reading list.

    Are you a fast reader? I see that the book is 376 pages long. I’m really surprised how you could get through this book in one morning! I would’ve taken me no less than a week.

  4. Christopher says:

    Cal, I love your stuff. Is there anyway you could make up a reading list so we all have the same base of knowledge when you make blog posts?

  5. ERLINDA says:

    “But I noticed that Boice talked a lot about how his subjects struggled with both the autonomy and loneliness of their position — in which much is expected but little guidance is provided.”

    I think there is a book idea here, and I know who will probably write it…

  6. Brian Majerus says:

    Yes, I’d be interested to know your reflections on reading. I once heard a friend basically describe how reading a book well does not mean reading every word. How do you approach this?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      For a non-fiction advice-style book like Boice’s I will actually read very few of the words. When you’ve read and written as many of these as I have, you get good at jumping in the key sections, getting a sense of the methodology and key results, then jumping back out again.

      Of course, with any of my books, you should savor every word…

    2. Dave Small says:

      One of the most useful books I’ve ever read is How to Read a Book by Adler and Van Doren. It helped get more value from a non-fiction book while spending considerably less time reading. If the goal is learning, we typically don’t need to read every word.

  7. Brian Majerus says:

    Yes, I’d be interested to know your reflections on reading too. I once heard a friend basically describe how reading a book well does not mean reading every word. How do you approach this?

  8. Tim Dawes says:

    Really interesting article, Cal. Just the admonition to be proactive. My kids are 13 (twins). I have your book on getting into college for them. And I’m trying to teach them that there are two kinds of people, those who are proactive and those who complain.

    This will become part of the argument.

  9. David says:

    One of the many big lessons I’ve learned from thought leaders like Cal, Noah Kagan, Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, etc. — is the importance of seeking out those who have mastered what you’re struggling with.

    Think about it. You’re a kid trying to learn to read. How the heck do you do that? By learning from models and mentors.

    Any cognitive task that taxes us far beyond our current ability is akin to our younger selves learning to read. Seeking the help/insight/advice of those who have figured it out accelerates your improvement exponentially.

    I watch our dogs staring at our pool in total bafflement and can’t help but wonder if that’s not a perfect metaphor for how we look at our deepest, most challenging problems. If only we had someone to turn to who could explain just HOW THIS WORKS.

    -David

    1. Matt says:

      Beautiful post, love the analogy-totally agree. Cal’s books and posts have done nothing but offer clarity and always steer me in the right direction. He’s truly a mentor in productivity and deep focus. You also have a great beard. Serious beard envy over here.

      1. David says:

        HAHAHA. Thanks, man, that just made the Sunday.

        1. STRONG STREAM says:

          Great article! You guys are great =)

          Remind me of this:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEej1feA9N8

  10. David says:

    One of the many big lessons I’ve learned from thought leaders like Cal, Noah Kagan, Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, etc. — is the importance of seeking out those who have mastered what you’re struggling with.

    Think about it. You’re a kid trying to learn to read. How the heck do you do that? By learning from models and mentors.

    Any cognitive task that taxes us far beyond our current ability is akin to our younger selves learning to read. Seeking the help/insight/advice of those who have figured it out accelerates your improvement exponentially.

    I watch our dogs staring at our pool in total bafflement and can’t help but wonder if that’s not a perfect metaphor for how we look at our deepest, most challenging problems. If only we had someone to turn to who could explain just HOW THIS WORKS.

    -David

    1. weak stream says:

      Totally agree.

    2. I found this observation particularly interesting:
      “The quick starters depicted here, unlike their counterparts, were proactive in soliciting collegial advice.”

      This leaves me with a question though. Do you go broad (i.e. ask for input from anybody and hope to get the gold in later analysis) or target (i.e. target the person who is best at what you’re aiming to learn)?

  11. weak stream says:

    ‘Struggled with both the autonomy and loneliness of their position’. I think this is the result of the current zeitgeist idealizing extrovesion and group fun. Yes, introverts do most of the intellectual heavy lifting, but this is perfectly normal and the younger group needs to know this in particular. Without isolation, no matter how bright you are, you will tend to restate the current thinking. The younger group needs to be taught to embrace isolation the way athletes are taught to embrace physical pain.

    1. Ashutosh says:

      Very powerful words indeed. Infact this should be one of the themes to be explored( or maybe it has been already)- how to suffer lonliness, even welcome it, when doing real deep/productve work.
      I think the entire trend of group work/extroversion/having social life has actually helped in making people settle for shallowoness instead of diving deep.

  12. Andrea says:

    This reinforces the thought that I need to write every day and not wait for inspiration. Waiting for the right moment to write isn’t going to get me anywhere. Thanks for sharing this study. It helps push me towards my goals.

  13. Dave Small says:

    Four great principles.

    I like your comment at the end: Put another way: if you replace above the word “write” with whatever verb captures the core value producing activity in your own entrepreneurial endeavor, Boice’s findings will likely seem suddenly quite relevant.

    I tested that on a few subjects: It works every time.

    Another great post Cal. Thanks.

  14. Joe says:

    Good points. I feel like I am already doing all of these. I did not learn any specific actions I could take. Maybe that was also one of the points: “…but little guidance is provided.”

  15. niraj says:

    I am so glad I found this , it talks about exactly what i was thinking about. That learning is doing. Recently I feel really inspired to just do.!! I would recommend the book which im sure alot of you will have read Think Big Grow Rich. The main concept is now or never.

  16. Study Hacks says:

    Some of you might have noticed the site was down or acting weird in the last 24-hours, this was due to a migration to a higher performance server. We should be back to normal now. And hopefully the long delays plaguing comment submissions should be much improved.

  17. Andrew says:

    My take away from this is that writing (or studying or research or whatever it may be) has to be ingrained into your daily schedule. So whatever it is you do, you have to work at it (in addition to doing the actual work) to continually do better. It certainly makes sense in terms of efficiency: if you’re trying to write a 90,000 word book, writing a few hundred words whenever you feel like it is a lot less efficient than cranking out 1000 words a day.

    I find your philosophy about work intriguing. I just finished Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I’m still absorbing the message and trying to figure out how to make it relevant to my situation. My question is though is how in the world do you figure out where to start? It isn’t about a passion or calling, so how do you decide? And what if you can’t actually get hired anywhere? The job market is pretty terrible where I live, moving isn’t really a good option, and with a bachelors degree I am in a middle where I am either underqualified or overqualified, and to boot every position wants experience but I can’t GET the experience to get an entry level position.

    It’s frustrating, hence why I bought your book. to see what I was doing wrong. I’m having trouble trying to apply it though.

  18. Max Weismann says:

    Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

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