Department of Physics
The faculty members in the Department of Physics unanimously endorse the guidelines for evaluation of our scholarly engagement presented in the document Research and Scholarship in the Natural Sciences Division, which was unanimously approved by the faculty of the Natural Sciences Division in September 1999.
We believe that this document provides comprehensive and specific guidelines which will be useful to Kenyon physicists as they plan their careers, as well as to those charged with our evaluation. In particular, we support the relative rankings of the values of various scholarly activities which are included in these guidelines. Of course, any such rankings must necessarily be incomplete and leave room for interpretation, and special circumstances may arise that are not covered at all. Therefore, the specific evaluations expressed in letters from scientists, and specially physicists, must be carefully considered in the evaluation of any individual.
In addition to supporting theguidelines of the Natural Sciences Division, we would like to include a few topics which they do not cover.
Pedagogy. In recent years there has been a growing recognition within the physics community that the people best prepared to conduct research on physics pedagogy are the physicists themselves. As a result, this has become a recognized sub-specialty within physics which is now represented at most research universities. Since we consider ourselves to be expert teachers as well as physicists, we believe that research in physics pedagogy is an appropriate and valuable scholarly pursuit for our department, and that it should be rewarded accordingly. In fact, no matter what our other research interests might be, the development of more effective ways to teach physics is a common goal which has earned us a place of leadership, and is likely to continue. Although the divisional guidelines refer only to scientific research grants, we believe that these comments apply as well to the writing and implementation of teaching grants, which should be equally valued.
Student Research. While we agree that research which involves undergraduates and results in publication in professional peer-reviewed journals is the ideal, we recognize that this goal is especially difficult in physics. Most scientists would agree that as the subject matter for research becomes more theoretical, mathematical, and abstract, the involvement of undergraduates in a meaningful way becomes more difficult. Few of our students (perhaps one or two per year) have the physical and mathematical sophistication, even as seniors, to participate in state-of-the-art research. As a result, we have seen a series of projects in our department in recent years, which provide a "research" experience for our students but do not result in publication or work of professional quality. Evaluators should be aware of the reasons for such compromises and judge them accordingly.
Collaborations. Several Kenyon physicists (currently 4 of 5) have established productive collaborations with scientists at other institutions as a way to remain current and connected to our specialties, and to address the limited resources available to us at Kenyon. This strategy has given us access to equipment (lasers, telescopes, medical imaging systems) and ideas, and has created new research opportunities for us. Unfortunately, much of this work is done elsewhere, and, although these collaborations have provided summer research opportunities including publication for our best students, they have not resulted in the local research presence we would like to establish. While acknowledging this shortcoming, we still believe that these collaborations have, on balance, been good for our department, and in some cases unavoidable. Although the divisional guidelines emphasize the establishment of a research program on campus, evaluators should carefully weigh the pros and cons of these collaborations on an individual basis.
Unreviewed research. Occasionally physicists conduct state-of-the-art research which is not available for the standard peer-review process. Two examples are proprietary research funded by a private corporation, and research which is classified as secret by the government. In such cases it is the responsibility of the physicist under review to provide evidence of the quality of the work, usually through a confidential letter of evaluation solicited by the Provost from a scientist who is knowledgeable about the project.