Being a Scholar-Practitioner While Pursuing an IR Career

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to

This month’s question is answered by Kristina Powers, Associate Vice President of Institutional Research Services at Bridgepoint Education. Kristina is a regular presenter at the AIR Forum and California AIR. A second edition of her co-edited book, Organization and Administration in Higher Education, will release in late 2016. Her co-edited New Directions for Institutional Research (NDIR) issue is scheduled for publication in spring 2016. She has also been invited to author a chapter on gainful employment for NDIR.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article

Dear Kristina: How can I be a scholar-practitioner while pursuing a career in IR?

Many institutional researchers spend a substantial amount of time satisfying research requests from their stakeholders, rather than their own. One of the perennial discussions among institutional researchers is that they do not have enough time for all of the requests that are submitted to their office, let alone presenting and publishing ideas externally. Despite the problem of having more work than time, the important requests are completed on-time, while other projects are delayed or not done at all. In short, the really important tasks get prioritized highest (and get done).

Consider applying the same prioritization to your scholarship for your IR career. Rather than slotting your research in the category of “when I have spare time,” consider making it an appropriate priority and strategically selecting projects that draw from and add to your practitioner role by advancing new knowledge and/or techniques.

What problems exist in your institutional research office? Do other offices have the same or similar problems? Aiming to solve a problem, or at the least inform a solution, are good topics to consider for your research. Consider a problem that you or your office has worked on solving recently: could that be fleshed out to educate others so that they could use the information and not have go through the same pain you did?

Allow me to share an example from my scholar-practitioner experience. While at my former institution, the president asked me how much other institutions were spending on a particular part of accreditation [for my colleagues in the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges region – he wanted to know more about the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP)]. There was no report available to answer his question, so I, as a researcher, along with a colleague, turned to the very laborious process of collecting the data needed by combing through thousands of pages of documents from other institutions to understand how they had financially approached the QEP.

Data from the documents were categorized and supplemented with institutional characteristics from IPEDS for analysis. As a result, we were the only institution that could answer what every president and accreditation liaison wanted to know – how much does a QEP cost? Since we thought other institutions would be interested in this information too, my colleague and I submitted a proposal to present at a conference. Our accepted session had a packed, standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people.

Since we had already completed the data and information analysis (which is 90 percent-plus of the work), there was minimal additional effort involved to construct a proposal and prepare some slides for presentation. This experience allowed me to combine my practitioner experiences with scholarship, contribute to the field, inform other decision-makers, and save other institutions time by not having to complete the same exhaustive research we did.

The following are four strategies I use to increase opportunities for scholar-practitioner experiences:

  1. Use what you’ve got – Begin building a proposal for presentation and/or publication by using an institutional research project you have recently worked on.

  2. Have a writing buddy – Akin to a workout buddy, this person meets you on a regular (e.g., weekly or bi-weekly) basis, in a place where you can get work done (e.g., coffee house, campus library), and also works on his/her own research projects. You both adhere to the meeting cadence to support each other, talk through places in your research where you each get “stuck,” and share progress on your work. It is important to note that the writing buddy need not be someone in your same field. In fact, more ideas may be generated with someone in a different discipline.

  3. Get on a schedule of “present, revise, present again, publish – The good thing about annual conferences is that they routinely call for conference proposals and set an unmovable deadline for you. Use this to your advantage by pledging to submit one substantive proposal to at least one conference each year. After presenting, use the feedback you receive in your session, in discussions with others at the conference, and new information learned from other sessions to revise and add to your presentation. If needed, present a substantially enhanced edition at the following conference. Leverage improvement ideas again from the conference to begin crafting your research for a manuscript submission to a journal.

  4. Collaborate with others – Network with institutional researchers at other institutions in order to collaborate on a presentation (and eventually a publication). For example, conference proposals on topics from different perspectives (e.g., institutional type, location, experiences) can make for informative presentations.

What other strategies have worked for you? Share your comments below.



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Total Comments: 1
Bill posted on 11/12/2015 5:09 PM
This is both an important topic and very useful advice. Thanks.

Bill Knight