This is the first post from co-founder and editor Charissa Powell. She is the Student Success Librarian for Information Literacy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Charissa was previously the Undergraduate Experience Librarian at Kansas State University.
Full disclaimer: I didn’t go to library school with the intention of being an academic librarian and never anticipated finding myself in a tenure-track job. My library experience before graduate school was in public libraries and I had every intention of my career following that path. However, I sought out an hourly teaching position in McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland and found myself really enjoying instruction, and more specifically, a passion for supporting first-year students.
By the time I graduated, I had narrowed my job search down to academic instruction positions. I did a nationwide job search after graduating and at the time, was fortunate enough to be in a full-time contract position which allowed me to gain valuable and practical experience. I was applying for a variety of positions; some of them were tenure-track, some of them were not. As a graduate student who had only recently decided to pursue a career in academic librarianship, I had a lot of catching up to do about the research and scholarly expectations of tenure-track librarians. Writing that just now makes me feel incredibly naive, but I doubt I’m alone in those thoughts, so this post is for anyone who has found themselves struggling to talk about their research interests.
The first draft research statement
My first experience with the concept of a research interest was when I applied for a tenure-track job that required a research statement. My initial thought: “What?! I don’t know what I want to research!” This was the first time that the thought of what I should research crossed my mind.
Have you heard the saying “don’t should all over yourself”? Yeah. Well I should all over my first research statement. It was filled with what I thought the search committee would want to see from a potential faculty librarian. Some of the things I was genuinely interested in, others, not so much. It was filled with hot-button trends in the field and didn’t fully reflect my genuine research interests.
Authentic research interests
When I started my first tenure-track position at Kansas State University the impostor syndrome feelings were intense. On paper, I was perfectly qualified for this position. Inside, I was convinced someone was going to think I wasn’t qualified for this job. I did what seemed like the natural next step; I started researching impostor syndrome. This became what I called a pet research project of mine. I read anything I could find on the subject. I remember reading Reflections on the Impostor Phenomenon as a Newly Qualified Academic Librarian by Ashley E. Faulker and having a huge sense of relief that comes when you find out “it’s not just you.”
I did some further research and found out that there has only ever been one research project done about impostor feelings and academic librarians. I then had the privilege of seeing Elizabeth Martin present at Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries Conference about impostor phenomenon and library leaders. Thus sparked my first authentic research interest.
This was also the first moment that I felt like I wanted to contribute to the scholarly conversation instead of feeling like I had to as part of the tenure process. For me, this was a tipping point in my thoughts and attitudes towards research. Looking back on my early time in the tenure process, I realized I had approached research as a hoop to jump through, whereas now I approach it as a way of giving back to the profession.
What I struggled with next was very similar to what I experienced when job searching. I felt like I had to explain why I was interested in this topic. Why it related. Why it was worth researching. With the example of impostor phenomenon, that research topic didn’t exactly line up with my work doing undergraduate instruction and outreach. While I was in an incredibly supportive tenure environment, I was still investigating how everything fit together.
Where I am today
I was recently listening to an podcast episode of You’ve Got This, hosted by Dr. Katie Linder and she did a Q&A episode on “Explaining Disparate Research Interests While Job Searching” that really jumped out at me. While this episode was specifically about explaining a very interdisciplinary research agenda, there were nuggets of advice that I believe hold true for when you’re trying to explain your interests. Dr. Linder explains that “As long as you have a clear narrative of what your research is and what the story is behind it, then you really want to look at who these people are and what do they really want to know.”
I’m not sure if it is because I’ve been writing this post about research interests and research statements, but it’s been popping up in my work life quite a bit. Last week I went to a new faculty orientation and the opening ice breaker was: “introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your research interests.” Let me tell you how much of an impostor I felt to be one of two non-PhD faculty members in that room and to then discuss my research interests in impostor phenomenon. The irony is not lost on me. While I was nervous to try and give an elevator speech of my research interests, it felt really validating to know that this was a topic I was genuinely interested in and better yet when the facilitator said “cool, that’s a new one!”
While I still might have to explain how impostor phenomenon relates to librarianship, I’ve been taking the above advice from Dr. Linder and making sure I have a clear narrative about how it all fits together. I have found that most people are very receptive when I tell the story of how I got to this research interests and why I care about it.
I’m excited about LibParlor for many reasons, one of them being to offer support to every stage of the research process, even at the very beginning when you don’t know what you want to research. I remember literally Googling “how to write a research statement” and “how to figure out what my research interests are.” If you don’t have a mentor, there’s not a lot of support for this beginning stage. I’m hoping that by creating this community, it can be a place where you can meet other library researchers that might have similar interests to you and find what sparks your interest.
- If you are at a beginning stage of developing a research statement, check out this LibGuide.
Keep the conversation going:
- If you have a research agenda, what was helpful during the developing process?
- If you’re still figuring things out, where are you getting stuck?
- What is the best advice you received about research agendas?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.