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Monday, August 12, 2019

Junior Prawfs - developing new research arcs

Hi folks. This is the fifth in a series on being a junior, interdisciplinary, multi-subject prawf—you can find the first four posts here, here, here, and here.

In this post, I’d like to consider what comes after a capstone project in a particular research area, when it’s time to develop a new research arc. Many of us face this at some point pre-tenure, and some may even face it during the period before their first major internal review (i.e., before year 3-4). Since the job market essentially requires candidates to develop a research arc in the form of an agenda you’d think doing so again within a few years would be easy enough. In my experience so far, however, that hasn’t been the case—it’s not harder, but it comes with a slightly different set of considerations than the first time around.

In my mind, a new research arc is different from a “next article”: articles are discrete projects within an arc, while an arc is a relatively coherent set of projects (probably with the odd outlier or two, and including non-article outputs like online essays, chapters, and even monographs). It may be that this way of thinking about research trajectories is more common among interdisciplinary folks who have to work with a data set, an archive, or a body of fieldwork and to try to exhaust that material before moving on. But I don’t think it’s exclusive to interdisciplinary scholars since we all do move on at some point.

Some of the things I’ve considered when shifting to a new research arc include:

  • How does this fit with the scholarly profile I’ve created for myself so far? Is it an understandable shift within a broad area (e.g., “employment law” or “comparative constitutional law”) or is it a shift to an altogether new broad area?
  • (if it’s a thickly populated area) Are there a few types of questions or ways of studying problems that I can focus on? Do I have specific questions—plural!—that I want to answer, either because answers don’t exist or because I think they leave room for expansion? My general thinking is that if I have at least 2–3 such questions at the outset, I’m likely to find more later on even if I can’t think of them right now.
  • (if it’s a thinly populated area) Is there a reason why it hasn’t generated a lot of traction? Is it that it’s generated traction in other fields but not in law?—and if so, is that for good reason?
  • What am I bringing that’s new? New solutions? New information, especially via an interdisciplinary method? New analytical/theoretical framework? A comparative perspective?

… and—this is a big one for me specifically, although I suppose it’s an amalgam of some of the above:

  • Does this area seem to have the potential to produce both classically legal questions and interdisciplinary questions where fieldwork in particular has something to offer?

Some of the questions I’ve had to answer, directly or indirectly, about developing new research arcs include:

  • How do you find a new line of research? (This was a very common job market question for me.)
  • How long does it usually take you to settle on something new? For me, I would say 9–12 months, although I'm somewhere in the middle of one and at the start of another so the truth is "TBD."
  • Once you’ve identified a broad area, what are some of the steps involved in settling on a new series of projects within it? (This is a more focused version of #1.)

In my next post, I’ll pick up this issue and talk a bit about a transition I’m in the early-middle stages of right now, as well as some of the ways this process might be unusual for certain kinds of interdisciplinary junior prawfs.


Posted by Deepa Das Acevedo on August 12, 2019 at 08:23 AM | Permalink


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