The Importance of a Research Agenda

I’ve been having conversations lately about the importance of a research agenda.

To me, it seems very closely to the discussion of goals that pops up from time to time. Some of my professional friends swear by goals, others swear by taking opportunities as they arise. (My answer, in that debate, is much less about a specific goal and more about choosing activities and opportunities that mesh with my mission.)

Similarly: do you have a single, clear focus for your research projects, or do you take opportunities as they arise? So far, in my professional life, I’ve had a broad topic that I’d classify as my “research agenda” but I also publish on the things I’m doing in my work to help share the ideas that have worked in my experience. I also take opportunities that arise, as well, often writing or preparing talks based on a request someone has made (which is often rooted in either my research agenda or the work that I’m doing).

That means my publishing and presenting is all over the map. I have dealt with instruction, design, and technology most often, because I try to build in a chance to write or speak into any new project I take on and a lot of my work has been in those two realms. I also have written about epistemological connections to library issues, which is closer to my research interest. I have been asked to write on issues related to feminist theory and information ethics, probably due to my academic background in those areas and how I wrote on related topics throughout library school. There doesn’t appear to be a focus in my work but that’s largely because “work” is too broad of a bucket. Some professional involvement is about (essentially) reporting, some is about my research agenda, and some is basically responding to an information need that I’ve been requested to fill.

I’m not sure I’d want it to be more focused than that. I like framing the work this way. It does make me think that perhaps some kind of indicator on a CV could help committees understand more of what they are looking at and the research and professional areas of interest of a given individual.

What do you think? If you’re in libraries: does your research agenda match your job? How much do you feel the pull to stick to your specific research agenda?

2 thoughts on “The Importance of a Research Agenda

  1. I don’t have a “research agenda” so much as an “allocating my time” agenda, being out in industry rather than academe. But…hm.

    I am *totally* not organized enough to be super goal-driven. And I’m by nature pretty opportunity-driven — and some of the best things in my career and life have come from seeing what materializes (after sufficient cultivation of my network and skills) and running with it! So I try to be very flexible on specifics.

    But I do find that the awesome ways I could be spending my time radically exceed the time I have to spend. So I have…goals is too strong a word…but how about priorities? A sense of which balls I have in the air, and which I’d like to, and why. And incoming opportunities get filtered against my available time and my priorities before I make a decision as to whether I’ll actually do them. (And with luck, if I can’t do them, I can recycle them as opportunities for someone else, who has clearly-enough-articulated goals or priorities for me to make that connection…)

  2. Good question to ruminate on!

    I think that I’ve moved overtime from being more opportunistic to more research agenda driven. When I was a newbie in academe, and faced with Promotion & Tenure I was kind of lower down on the Maslowian motivation scale – I didn’t want to perish, so I published. I definitely found things that were interesting to me, gaps in our knowledge & stuff, but also things I knew I could write about and get published relatively quickly – low-hanging fruit. Ideas for research seemed to organically present themselves (to my reflective mind) so I went for them.

    Then as I started to have my P&T needs met I paused and breathed for a bit. I realized that teaching thousands of undergrads each year that I needed to figure out how emotions, affect, and motivation fit into education. So I think my, somewhat unarticulated at that point, research agenda was conceived.

    My research still organically flows from my practice, but overtime I’ve been better able to consciously articulate my agenda. My work on affect and instruction morphed into critical theory and critical pedagogy and its relation to libraries (I’m finding out, much to my happiness, that I’m a feminist pedagogue without knowing it!) On good days I even think I know what praxis means :) My latest step on this research path is to begin to explore critical research methods and how they relate to LIS.

    One great thing about this identifying of my research agenda, and being better at articulating my theoretical roots, is that I’m finding a whole lot of librarians out there, and faculty here at Portland State who share their penchant for criticality! I’m finding my peeps.

    An unexpected, and very practical, corollary benefit just happened the other day. One instructor who I had taught library classes for had taken an interest in my last, critically based research project. So as we were emailing back and forth about setting up a time for instruction in January, in passing I shared my latest project summary with her. She was over the moon as her students were reading Joe Kinchloe and she though my work would tie in nicely with his. She want me to talk a bit at the beginning of our library session about my research agenda, kind of as an example of an “engaged professional” who is also exploring critical issues. I suspect it will make a great segue, and help create good rapport with her students.

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