a culmination of previous work, or a steppingstone for the future?
Like in many PhD programs, my comprehensive exams included an element that was intended to help me prepare for my dissertation proposal, dissertation, and dissertation defense. Building off of my research interests and experiences up to that point, my advisor wrote me a lengthy question asking me to define and describe simulation games—the intent, of course, being that at least some of this could be worked into a literature review for a dissertation.
What ended up being tricky about this, though, is that the same semester that I was passing my comprehensive exams was the same semester that I was starting to lean into social media research. By the end of that semester, I would publish my first two papers and both of them were on Twitter. I was also getting started on what is still my most-cited paper, which is still a Twitter-based paper. By the time I got to my dissertation, I had left games and learning mostly behind and doubled-down on being a “how teachers use Twitter” researcher.
In short, even though my comprehensive exams were supposed to be both a culmination of my work up to that point and a steppingstone for the future, they ended up only being the former. I showed that I knew what I was doing, but I made a pretty big pivot shortly after that took my career in a different direction.
One of my projects for this summer is putting together my application for tenure, which includes writing a research statement that defines who I am as a researcher. As I consider the story that I want to tell the various individuals and committees that will read this statement, I’m also wondering whether I want this research statement to be a culmination of previous work or a steppingstone for the future. Like during my comprehensive exams, I’m kind of at an inflection point in my research interests.
I came to the University of Kentucky as a “how teachers use Twitter” researcher, and the case I’ve built up for giving me tenure is largely built on those interests. Most of my publications are based on that kind of work, and when I had a chance to suggest external reviewers, I very specifically picked educational technology researchers who specialize in digital methods and/or social media. However, one of the reasons that I was so excited to take a job in a School of Information Science is that it would give me some flexibility to take my digital methods research into disciplines other than education. I’ve flirted some with that over the past several years, but right now, most of the projects I’m currently working on are related to online Mormonism, the online far-right, or some combination on the two.
As I think about how to put together a research statement for tenure, it’s seeming difficult to put together one that serves as both a culmination of my previous work and a steppingstone for the future. I’m using my identity as an educational technology researcher to get tenure, so my research statement will probably treat that as my primary identity but give a nod to the areas that I’m branching into. That makes the most sense for external reviewers and is probably the easiest in terms of writing a cohesive story about my work since joining UK; however, I also do so knowing that I’m actively trying to redefine my identity and my research interests. The more I appeal to my history and my external reviewers, the less this research statement will reflect who I want to be going forward over the next five years.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a huge dilemma. I’m fine writing a research statement for tenure purposes and then changing it after the decision comes. At the same time, though, it’s a weird place to be in. At the same time I’m applying for tenure based on the strength of my research identity up to this point, I’m also trying to figure out what I want my research identity to be going forward—those two goals don’t always play nicely with each other.
- tenure application
- grad school
- comprehensive exams
- social media
- social media research
- digital traces research
- academic reinvention
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