Division of Natural Sciences
Every Kenyon faculty member is expected to be an excellent teacher, an available and understanding advisor and mentor to many students, and a productive scholar who is active in his or her discipline of inquiry. The members of the Natural Sciences Division fully endorse these expectations, while agreeing wholeheartedly with the general observation that meeting them is extremely challenging. With this in mind, the Division believes it is important for us to articulate the special challenges that combining science teaching and research at an elite liberal arts college poses for cutting edge research productivity and publication, particularly for junior faculty members who are seeking appointment without limit. First, it is the responsibility of the faculty member to recognize the way in which models for research in the sciences change as he or she makes the transition from a research university to a small liberal arts college. Ideally, the successful negotiation of this challenge results in the fairly rapid establishment of a sustainable research program. Second, the faculty member must demonstrate competence and active participation in his or her chosen discipline through publication and other forms of scholarly discourse. Finally, the faculty member must meet these aforementioned challenges in light of the high teaching demands and relatively limited resources available at a liberal arts college. We feel it is very important that these challenges and their implications be understood by those who will evaluate the work of scientists at Kenyon, as well as by the scientists being evaluated. The evaluators include the Tenure and Promotions Committee of the faculty, the President, Provost, and Trustees of the College, and outside experts who evaluate Kenyon science departments and programs.
- Models for Research in the Sciences
At Kenyon, a fair and useful evaluation of scholarship in the Natural Sciences must be based on the principle that successful research programs can and do take on a variety of forms. For example, depending on the nature of the research, a successful program might involve a significant undergraduate research component relying on participation of summer science, honors, and independent study students. In other instances, the faculty research program may not include undergraduate participation but instead relies heavily on advanced theoretical and/or mathematical work with collaborators at other colleges. Rather than encouraging a "one-size-fits-all" approach to scientific research, the Division recognizes that such diversity is valuable to the faculty, students, and more generally the College. Hence the College should encourage each faculty member to evaluate his or her personal strengths and interests to find the approach to scholarly engagement that works best given the available resources.
In many cases, research with student collaborators will proceed more slowly than research carried out with more mature collaborators. The Division wants to ensure that peers and others who are evaluating faculty members choosing to pursue research programs involving undergraduates are aware of the subtleties involved in what might be called the apprenticeship model, described below. In particular, teaching and research within this model are inextricably intertwined, with students learning how to conduct research by doing research.
At research universities, the apprenticeship model for experimental science results in research groups, led by one or a few tenured faculty members who are primarily responsible for grant-writing activities, overall management and direction of the researchers, and interfacing with the wider academic community in the discipline or sub-discipline. The other members of the group, including post-doctoral research associates, graduate student researchers, laboratory technicians and support staff, and undergraduate research students, are all collaborators in the process of producing new scientific knowledge. The faculty members are mentors to people at each of these levels, supervising the group as a whole and being available to each researcher to guide his or her efforts. The post-docs in a group will generally be the most independent, often leading a project or working on their own program. The graduate students will work more closely with the group leader, learning to develop and implement a coherent research project leading to a Ph. D. Technicians or support staff will be charged with keeping the lab equipment running and performing many tasks which require a certain amount of training and responsibility, but which are not generally recognized as central research activities - computer programming, network system administration, trouble-shooting and repairs, operation and maintenance of specialized equipment, etc. At a university, relatively few undergraduates participate in research and many are assigned fairly menial tasks for much of their time. Undergraduates will often be assigned to work on a part of a larger project being led by a grad student or post-doc; in such cases, the grad student or post-doc is responsible for training the younger researcher. This is a necessary and expected part of the grad student's or the post-doc's professional responsibility.
In the context of a liberal arts college, this hierarchy is collapsed into many fewer levels. In an active laboratory there will generally be one professor leading the group, one or a few upper-level undergraduate researchers, and one or a few relatively inexperienced undergraduate researchers. In this setting, undergraduate students are given a more central role in conducting research, providing these students with superior training and experience. The upper-level undergraduates may help in the initial training of the new recruits, but the general mentoring and specific training needed for the new undergraduates to contribute to the research program are the responsibility of the faculty member. In addition, that faculty member often has to assume the responsibilities of the technicians or support staff, when such support is unavailable or when such jobs require specific expertise or training relevant to the science being pursued. Finally, the faculty member is the primary person who writes the grant proposals, prepares the papers for publication (sometimes co-authored by the student researcher), and stays current in the field, through reading literature and interacting with peers at conferences.
Given the challenges of running such a program, one might ask why scientists at Kenyon should take this approach to scholarship. The Division feels that encouraging such work is advantageous both to our students and to our scientific communities. If we do not, Kenyon undergraduates would lose out on the early stages of the scientific apprenticeship, missing opportunities to engage in research which seeks to expand the boundaries of what is known. In addition, the organization of science research in this apprenticeship model depends on the contribution of scientists to the training and mentorship of new researchers. For Kenyon to discourage such work (or fail to encourage it) would be particularly troubling because teacher/researchers, such as those most sought by Kenyon in the faculty recruiting process, are among the most able and accomplished mentors and teachers in our disciplines. The combination of excellent research mentoring and significant research involvement, which science students can receive at a college like Kenyon, leads to the disproportionately large representation of liberal arts college graduates that are among the scientific elite.
There are different models for successful engagement in scientific research at a liberal arts college. The goal of this document is to recognize that diversity and make explicit the need to provide support and encouragement for a range of different styles in approaching scientific scholarship. It is clear that some faculty members in the sciences are engaged in outstanding scholarly work without the involvement of undergraduates. However, publishable research with students is exceptionally valuable to Kenyon and should also be rewarded in the evaluation process. Kenyon and its evaluators should at all costs avoid encouraging science faculty to forego establishing a research program involving undergraduates at Kenyon merely in order to assure higher rates of publication.
- Establishing a Scientific Research Program
The Division acknowledges that in most cases it will take a substantial amount of time for scientists who are beginning their careers at Kenyon to develop a program which will result in published research. (At Kenyon, published scholarship in the sciences includes journal articles, chapters in edited volumes or books, books, and electronic publications.) Especially in the first few years of a scientist's career at Kenyon, most of the scientist's time will be taken up with the development of lecture and laboratory classes in addition to the establishment of a sustainable research program. Furthermore, for some faculty circumstances may warrant extended start-up periods before the publication of results should be expected. For example, scientists in highly theoretical fields may shift their efforts significantly in order to involve students in their work and to integrate their results into their teaching.
Besides the College's provision of start-up and other faculty development funds, building a successful research program typically requires a great deal of time, ingenuity, and patience. The researcher may have to procure additional funds, buy and assemble equipment, deal with computing needs, and learn to use the equipment by applying established techniques and/or developing new techniques to suit his or her research questions. In addition, most science professors have very little technical support, so they must spend a great deal of time and effort to maintain and upgrade their equipment themselves.
Establishing a research program is so important for the faculty member and, where possible, for student involvement in research, that it must be considered a major criterion for successful completion of the reviews leading to and culminating in appointment without limit. Thus, the issue is not solely publication for the sake of having published research conducted during graduate school. The important issue is building a research program at Kenyon that results in publishable research and establishes a foundation for continued research productivity and research mentorship beyond the granting of tenure.
- Components of Scholarship in the Natural Sciences Division Publication
Although the rate of publication will be more modest for science researchers at liberal arts colleges than it is for university researchers, the Division recognizes the many benefits of publication-quality research and thus expects its members to pursue peer-reviewed publication, including print and electronic journal articles, chapters in books, entire books (including textbooks), and contributions to science literature for wider circulation (books, magazines, web encyclopedias, etc.). Given the widely varying time and resource requirements for these different types of publications, as well as the variation in typical publication frequency for researchers within each of the science disciplines represented at Kenyon, the Division does not recommend a numerical minimum requirement for the number and type of publications necessary for successful appointment without limit for scientists at Kenyon. Perhaps individual disciplines will find it possible to do so; if so, we refer you to their more specific guidelines. However, the Division would consider the absence of peer-reviewed publication to be problematic, both for tenure and for further promotion.
b. Grant Writing
Although publication should have a special importance in faculty evaluations of scholarship, the Division emphasizes that there are other forms of scholarship that are valuable and even comparable to peer-reviewed publications. One such form, currently listed second in the legislation for scholarly evaluation, is receipt of grants. Particularly common in the sciences, grant writing is a very time-consuming process requiring considerable expertise and insight into one's field. The process is usually discipline-specific, and college-wide support for grant writing is generally not available. Furthermore, given that external funding is so competitive, individual research grant proposals (e.g., proposals to such agencies as the NSF) face more stringent review processes than those typically involved in journal publications. Consequently, funded research grant proposals are indications of successful research programs, and the formative experience gained from submitting even a non-funded grant proposal could be at least as beneficial as that gained from the review process of a journal publication. In light of these facts, the Division views receipt of individual research grants as significant scholarly work.
Participation in division-wide grant-writing efforts (e.g., HHMI or Fairchild proposals) is also a form of scholarship. Such efforts require time and expertise, and they often result in enhancements of equipment and other resources for scholarly research and teaching. Evaluations of scholarship should consider faculty contributions to division-wide grants, in addition to work on proposals to fund individual research programs.
c. Presentations, Invited Lectures, Conference Papers, Posters
Presentations, lectures, conference papers, and posters at local, national, and international meetings are valuable forms of scholarship. These activities indicate that a faculty member is engaged in an ongoing research program which is open to critique by peers in the scientific community. In the sciences, faculty often deliver reports at national meetings, describing ongoing but unfinished research. These reports, which might take the form of a poster or a talk, provide formative feedback from other scientists. The Division recognizes that such presentations are indicative of progress, as well as being an important means of staying current in one's field. Moreover, there are also certain cases where an invitation to present at a conference or an institution might be especially important. In fact, there are some conferences where an invitation to attend is a significant accomplishment - a recognition by one's peers of one's contribution to the field. Such accomplishment should be carefully considered when weighing scholarly activity.
Editorships of professional journals and newsletters are worthy scholarly activities, however, not to the exclusion of pioneering work which furthers the knowledge base in one's field. Typically, editorial positions are held by those academicians who are already recognized as major contributors in their field, and the College should also recognize this achievement.
e. Reviews of Grants and Manuscripts
As with editorships, invitations to review grant proposals, manuscripts, and books are indicative of a level of accomplishment which the College will likely have already recognized. Nonetheless, the work involved in these reviews should be considered valuable scholarly activity.
In general, the Division recognizes that individual faculty have differing strengths and resource requirements, and that the dedication to one's field manifests itself in various ways at various times in an individual's career. Certain faculty members may have numerous presentations and fewer publications. A professor could be very up-to-date in the field as a result of ongoing activities at conferences and workshops. Or a professor might have numerous publications and very few presentations. Evaluation of scholarship should consider the full virtue of the person. The whole is sometimes more than the sum of the parts.