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Developing a Research Program

The Scholarship, Research, and Creative Activity Office has created this resource for faculty who wish to develop a research program, which may include a series of projects and research activities that will form a long-range plan.

Dr. Erik Krogh and Dr. Chris Gill are successful researchers at VIU who have worked very hard to develop a flourishing research program.
How to Think of Your Project as a Long-Range Plan

Launching Your Research Career

How do I Develop a Research Program When I have a Full Course Load?

How to Think of Your Project as a Long-Range Plan

A common mistake new researchers make is taking on too big of a research project. Break it down into manageable components. Think of your research goal as a long-range plan. Don’t plan on doing it all at once. To get there, you will probably engage in several short-term research projects, each one of which meets an objective that helps in getting to your long-range goal. Often, research projects build upon each other, each one another step towards the long-range goal. To help you get started, check out this useful resource page written for early career geoscience faculty but useful to all faculty: Planning your Research Program. Once you have an idea for a long-range goal, think about your niche. What aspect of it are you going to be known for? Once you have your idea, your niche, then think about the various aspects of your idea or different approaches you could take. If you pursue this approach for ten years, where do you think your research program will be? What do you think are some baby steps that will help you get there?

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Launching Your Research Career

Your research career probably started in grad school. Ideally, your research program should build on that and/or your area of teaching expertise; this will likely be your research specialty or ‘niche’. Each year, try to add one accomplishment to your CV that builds on your niche. Below are some ideas. Don’t attempt too many, but chose one as a goal. If that worked and you feel you have enough time, do another.

    • Write a paper based on your thesis/dissertation. Submit at least one paper a year. This sounds easy, but it takes time. Don’t set your production expectations too high, but don’t set them too low either. Get to know the journals in your area and aim for the highest impact journal you think you can get published in.
    • If you are still working on your dissertation, consider publishing along the way. It helps you clarify your thoughts for the dissertation, and starts you building your publications right away. TalentEgg.ca has some Q&As on the subject: How to Get your Work Published as a Graduate Student.
    • Think about publishing a book based on your dissertation.
    • Connect with a publisher in your field and ask about doing book reviews. This gives you an opportunity to keep up with the literature, get published ;-) and it is another academic activity to add to your CV.
    • Volunteer to sit on a faculty selection, or a peer review research committee. This will give you a feel for reviewing applications whether they are grant or academic job applications. This will give you insight into what well-prepared grant applications and CVs look like. What do committees look for? What makes a good application? What mistakes do you see in the weak applications? What do seasoned academics look for in a CV? Add this committee review experience to your CV.
    • Always present at conferences whenever possible. Make the most of the social functions at conferences and workshops to network and form new relationships with other researchers in your field.
    • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate with other researchers at VIU, at nearby institutions and around the world.

Most researchers are not necessarily successful in receiving a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) or the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) within their first few years as a new faculty member. Success rates at SSHRC can be as low as 20% depending on the program. Set your sights on internal VIU grants to begin with. Your chances of success are much higher. It gives you experience which can be added to the 'grant awarded' section of your CV. Public dissemination of research results is also important. It doesn't have to be in an academic peer-reviewed journal, it could be a presentation at a professional conference or other public event. Including this activity in your CV will demonstrate that:

      1. You were successful in competing for a grant, so there is a committee out there who thinks highly of your proposal.
      2. The grant amount adds value to your worth in the eyes of the reader.
      3. By completing a grant, you are proving that you are experienced in administering, being financially responsible and successful in bringing a project to conclusion. Award committees have limited funds, so they like to know they are giving funds to responsible people.
      4. By disseminating the results, you are showing that the funding provided was not used solely for your personal career development, but also benefited your academic peers and/or society.
      5. This one project could end up in three or four places in your CV. CV readers look for these connections, e.g. have they had an award? Did they finish the project? Did they publish from it? Were there any students involved (Highly Qualified Personnel - known as HQPs) and are they co-publishers?

Starting a research program can be intimidating. Try some of these suggestions to make it seem more feasible:

      • Start small. Try a proof of concept, a mini version of your project. Test it out. Start with a big, overarching problem and dissect it into smaller projects that show a common-sense trajectory of discovery and application of the new knowledge. Your plan will always get sidetracked with new information but that’s all part of the fun. The important thing here is to show that you have an overall plan and not that you are jumping around from research problem to research problem.
      • Try to bring research into the classroom; embed it into the curriculum. This will introduce students to the research process and help break a large project into manageable parts.
      • Find a mentor to show you the ropes, either someone in your field or a related field.
      • Try to become part of a research team. Take on a small role and work with experienced people who can help guide you.
      • Always involve students in your research whenever possible. The experience is invaluable for students, looks great on everyone’s CV and can help increase your productivity. The ability to successfully supervise and mentor students at all levels is important to your credibility as a researcher.
      • When developing a research program be aware of codes of practice, protocols and contracts.

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How do I Develop a Research Program When I have a Full Course Load?


Balancing the demands of teaching with the need/desire to research: This is probably the most difficult task. There are no magic solutions but here are some helpful tips.

  1. Prioritize: set weekly appointments in your calendar to work on your research and stick to it. Even if it’s only an hour or two a week, this will help get you excited and get the momentum growing.
  2. Collaborate. Find productive collaborations. The key word here is productive. We’ve all been stuck in collaborations or working groups which are bogged down in non-essential, time-wasting tasks and conflicts but if you find a collaboration that works for you, run with it. It is always great to have someone to bounce ideas off of and most importantly to publish with so that your CV gets enhanced.
  3. Say no when you need to. This is difficult but it is important, especially in the early years when it is easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed.
  4. Delegate: If you do have any help (student, administration, TA) take full advantage of it and see what they can take off your plate.
  5. Find a mentor: If you can find an established researcher in your area that is willing to take you under his or her wing and help you through the hurdles and hiccups this can be very helpful. Talk to your Dean or Chair as they may be able to pair you up with a mentor.

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Updated: October 30, 2015