August 31, 2015
This year, the ECF invited Randy Floyd, professor at the University of Memphis and previous editor of SSSP’s Journal of School Psychology to share his advice for early career researchers. In this first installment, Randy offers general recommendations for successful scholarship in school psychology.
Foundations for Successful Scholarship in School Psychology
By Randy G. Floyd, The University of Memphis
As a participant in the 2005 School Psychology Research Collaborative Conference, I am the beneficiary of the numerous, ongoing efforts of the Society for the Study of School Psychology (SSSP) to enhance the scholarship of the field through professional development activities and generous funding of several initiatives. Thus, I appreciate this opportunity to contribute to the SSSP Early Career Forum and focus on publishing and the peer-review process. I hope to offer, in a series of five blog posts, (a) practical insights from both my experience as a university professor and as a former editor of one of the major journals in the field and (b) information from reviews of the literature and research with close colleagues (including Craig Albers, Tom Fagan, Rebecca Martinez, and Sterett Mercer). Future posts will address employing specific strategies (and avoiding common mistakes) in submitting to peer-reviewed journals, finding the best resources to which to turn, and responding to reviewer and editor feedback. In this post, I want to offer 10 broad recommendations for scholarly success:
1. Be a student of the game. Devote time, money, and effort to securing resources and participate in trainings that will enhance your skill set and strategy use as a scholar. Although the strongest scholars continue to expand their competencies throughout their development, your early career is the time to establish a strong foundation on which the remainder of your career can rest. It is likely, too, that you will have more time early in your career to reach this goal than later in your career, when service responsibilities tend to increase. Find articles, book chapters, books, and blogs that address career success (see for example, Prinstein, 2013), and read voraciously. Seek out and attend presentations at professional conferences and use start-up monies and department funding to attend specialized workshops (e.g., focused on grant writing and advanced statistics and research designs). I will address some of these resources in my next blog post.
2. Finish what you started as a graduate student, intern, post-doc, or early career practitioner. If you have not already, work to publish your thesis and dissertation research. In the same vein, discuss with your major professor, supervisors, and research team members ways to present and publish research results or other projects from your graduate training, post-doctoral experience, or earlier career in practice. Find ways to channel what you have learned from those experiences into other published products (e.g., a narrative review of the literature, a test review, a newsletter article, or a guide for practitioners).
3. Collaborate selectively with others who have a scientific orientation, data analysis skills, or are generally good at writing. The best collaborations are synergistic—or at least mutually beneficial. There is no sense in collaborating for its own sake; some collaborations may produce more cost than gain. As you establish your competencies, know where you are weakest and seek out others who will complement you. Unless you anticipate more cost than gain, continue research and writing collaborations with major professors, supervisors, and research team members (as previously noted). Do not hesitate to contact more senior members in the field about collaborating in areas of their most intense interest. They may be overjoyed to team with energetic early career scholars and very willing to provide guidance. Their contributions will likely complement your own; they will be less likely to generate text for a manuscript but more likely to offer advice regarding study conceptualization, manuscript preparation, and viable publication outlets.
4. Identify when and where you work best and protect it. Focused, productive writing and thinking time is vital to the success of an early career scholar, so give generously of your time to service throughout the week, but do not hesitate to say (without elaboration) that you cannot meet during sacred periods. In selecting them, reflect on what time of the day you are at your cognitive best, and complete your most challenging work then. Save less demanding tasks (e.g., responding to emails) for when you are not at your cognitive peak. Although these periods may change throughout your career (and due to variable home and work schedules), strive foremost to protect your best time. In addition, work where there are few distractions—which often means not in your university office. Many of the most productive faculty work at home—often staying home at least a day a week or during long mornings or afternoons throughout the week. Others find hiding places on the university campus (including library study carrels or empty classrooms) or in coffee shops (when neither home nor work offices are quiet options). Consider employing time management strategies (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique), but whenever and wherever, turn off email, text, and phone message notifications during these thinking and writing sessions.
5. Spend at least 8 hours (1 work day) a week writing. As you consider your schedule each week, stay aware of the amount of time you engage in writing activities (see Silva, 2007). Writing in the broad sense includes everything supporting scholarship and manuscript development. For example, when you feel unable to produce some semblance of coherent text during a scheduled writing period, reading and taking notes from articles, adding and formatting references, and writing incomplete sentences in manuscripts will support your broad writing goals. Write what comes easiest to you, which rarely reflects the standard Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion sequence of manuscripts. When writing, many productive scholars start with the most concrete elements—in Method and Results sections—and extend writing from there. For me, each section of the manuscript requires different thinking and text construction processes, so I tend to develop those sections somewhat independently. Reviewing the text structure and content of articles and other publications as models as well as journal article reporting standards (see Cooper, 2011) will assist you in developing manuscripts.
6. Use your breadth of experiences as a foundation for your research. For professors, use readings from your courses, student questions, and student projects to generate ideas and projects to enhance your research agenda. For practitioners, develop manuscripts focusing on research based on single-case studies and program evaluations to address practical questions in the field. Generate ideas for literature reviews from questions posed to you during workshops or from pressing issues facing practitioners and administrators in schools and clinics. You should strive to never be without data or an idea for your next manuscript.
7. Find your publishing niche (or niches). With a variety of publishing outlets—including journals, newsletters, and books—you should consider your interests and skills and how they might be best aligned with these outlets. Rather than always striving to publish in journals, some scholars with strong writing and editing skills publish more authored and edited books than research articles. Others with a strong leaning toward practice-based issues publish in professional newsletters. Still others publish commercially developed assessment instruments, test reviews, and book reviews. In the same vein, let your data analytic skills help fill a niche. Consider ways to develop skills in specific areas that will allow you to use them repeatedly to answer questions in a novel way across parallel projects. For example, some research teams focus on publishing meta-analyses or qualitative analyses and publish multiple studies using these methodologies. Others employ sophisticated quantitative analyses (e.g., structural equation modeling) and archival data sets from test publishers or longitudinal data bases to produce a series of related articles.
8. Consider multiple outlets for your publications. It is easy to gravitate toward submitting manuscripts first to the journals you know best and then giving up when these journals do not agree to publish your work. Do not be disheartened. There are a wide variety of school psychology generalist and specialty journals and professional newsletters that target and publish quantitative and qualitative research, systematic and narrative reviews, descriptions of best practices for the field, test reviews, book reviews, and “thought pieces.” Another blog post in this series will focus on this array of publishing outlets.
9. Use national presentations as motivation. Professional publications (even books and associated chapters) rarely have hard deadlines associated with them. As such, determining when to submit your manuscripts to journals is almost always completely up to you. Some of the strongest scholars in the field (and their students) appear to use (a) proposals for presentations (as posters or papers) at national conventions and (b) the presentations themselves to motivate them to complete their projects. Frequently, these presentations yield feedback that can be used to refine subsequent manuscript development. Plus, each presentation will add to your count on your curriculum vitae.
10. Be a strong mentor in guiding students toward publishing. Just like your collaborations with your major professor and supervisors, your efforts with your students can produce publications about which you can be proud. When well designed, theses and dissertations developed under your mentorship should be publishable. Additional scholarly projects with individual students or across your research team members not only assist the development of your students’ skills and careers but also increase your publishing productivity.
Cooper, H. (2011). Reporting research in psychology: How to meet journal article reporting standards. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Prinstein, M. J. (Ed.). (2013). The portable mentor: Expert guide to a successful career in psychology (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Springer.
Silva, P. (2007). How to write a lot. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
The author would like to thank Dr. Ryan Farmer, Dr. Xu (Lilya) Jiang, Dr. Beth Meisinger, and Dr. Colby Taylor for their feedback on earlier drafts of this post.