Why Hire a Research Mentor?

Why Hire a Research Mentor?

By BizEd Staff

April 25, 2017

Mentors at Northern Arizona University encourage instructional practioners to become scholarly practioners.

PRACTITIONER FACULTY make up a growing percentage of business school professors, especially as business schools realize the value of integrating a practitioner's real-world perspectives into their programs. But it can be far more difficult for schools to find professors of practice who also are willing to publish—that is, to become scholarly practitioners.

In 2014, Craig van Slyke, dean of the Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, wanted to encourage more of his school's instructional practitioners to become scholarly practitioners—particularly in face of new accreditation requirements. So, he created a new position for someone whose sole duty would be to train these professors in what it takes to publish research.

He approached colleague Carol Stoak Saunders, who he thought had just the right qualifications for the job. Saunders had been an associate director of research at the Center for MIS Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and had a long history of interdisciplinary scholarship. At the time Van Slyke approached her, Saunders was a professor of management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "I was ready for a change," says Saunders. "He saw a problem in getting non-tenure-track faculty to make scholarly contributions, and he thought I could help solve it."

Saunders began her three-year con­ tract as the Franke College's Research Professor in 2015. Saunders lives in Florida in the spring, but spends the summer and fall semesters in Flagstaff. She communicates with faculty even when she is not on campus. She works with tenured and tenure-track faculty who want her feedback, but her primary responsibility is to familiarize non-tenure-track faculty with the requirements and strategies for academic publication.

Saunders trains non-tenure-track faculty on how to choose and develop an idea, where and how to submit articles, what to do after receiving a "revise and resubmit" request, and how to handle negative feedback from the review process. Last year, she worked with faculty on submitting requests to the Institutional Review Board for Protection of Human Subjects (IRE).

Why is having a research mentor important? "Many non-tenure-track faculty think that they have to use advanced statistics and elaborate research designs to be published. They think the research process is so cumbersome that they won't be able to navigate it success­ fully," says Saunders. "''m here to show them that this process isn't so bad."

Saunders often encourages practice academics to start by writing teaching cases. "They can translate their experience into something that can be used directly in their classes," says Saunders. Alternatively, she urges them to write papers for practitioner journals, which are keenly interested in applicability of practices and ideas.

In July, Saunders will offer a five-day workshop called "Get Published!" The workshop has space for up to 25 non­ tenure-track faculty-not only those from Franke, but from other schools.

"The first morning will be designed around the theme, 'Yes, you can do this!"' says Saunders. Van Slyke will speak to the group about the importance of research to the business school, including research published in practitioner journals. A professor of practice will share his firsthand experience-within his first year at NAU, he wrote several teaching cases, presented one at a regional conference, and had the case he presented accepted for publication. A past president of the National Association of Case Researchers will spend a day and a half conducting a segment on writing and publishing teaching cases.

During the second half of the work­ shop, participants will learn about different types of publications and ways to get published, as well as how to collaborate with co-authors. Eventually, Saunders hopes these non-tenure-track faculty will collaborate with their scholarly academic colleagues, who not only benefit from a practitioner's input, but also expose the instructional practitioners to strategies for conducting and publishing their research.

In addition to designing and delivering her workshops, Saunders has worked with several professors as they prepared papers and helped others make the transition from instructional practitioner to scholarly practitioner.

As the end of her contract approaches, the school is recruiting to fill a research chair position. The new chair's responsibilities will include not only teaching and conducting research, but also mentoring colleagues.

"It's a good sign that the school is now going to institutionalize what I'm doing," says Saunders. "It is getting harder and harder to publish, and it can be difficult to learn the ropes of the academic publishing business. Good scholarship is something both tenure-track and non­tenure-track faculty need to learn."

More information about the "Get Published!" workshop is available at franke.nau.edufget-published.

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