How to Keep up with Advances in Your Field

 Why Bother

Like any field of study, yours keeps evolving: new discoveries are made: old theories slide into oblivion.   As an educator who develops others in the field, it is critical that you regularly incorporate these changes into your thinking, your research and your teaching.  Your reputation, career advancement, perhaps, even your employment depends upon it.

So How do you possibly keep up with the constant barrage of new information and still do your job?

Have a plan.

Since this is a vital part of your job and your career, it needs to be a regular element in your schedule.  Each of you will approach it differently; but, here are some suggested techniques that will help.

Specific Techniques

Whether you love them or hate them, this is where computers are definitely your friend.

  1. Start with the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) the online digital library of education research and information. It is sponsored by the Institute of Education Services and relatively simple to access.  You probably already use it regularly.  Also investigate the full scale of your campus library to find out what other resources it might offer in your search for advances in your field.
  2. Now move beyond ERIC. This will take a little research and some decisions making. Every field has its share of journals and authoritative publications.  You can’t realistically follow them all.

Take the time to actually read through samples of each, then, find out how to access  the ones you prefer.  Make certain you have the option to regularly review the most popular ones, just because most of your group may be talking about it.  Yet, explore some of the journals ‘less traveled’ to give yourself an advantage of more cutting edge research reports.  Stretch yourself as well to figure out how to extract updated information from publications from other countries and in other languages.

  1. Many journals also have an alert system which lets you know when an article about your specialty is published. If you sign up for these, be sure to filter them into an online file you can easily find.
  2. All online and library articles are found by keywords. Take some trial and error effort to figure out which words or combinations bring you the best selection. And, definitely don’t forget to use the filter option to eliminate whole categories of articles you don’t want.  For example, if psychology is your field, you might want to filter to narrow in more on cognitive articles.
  3. Since many publishers charge significant subscription fees, make access to your favourites part of your employment contract.
  4. To add context and perspective to your research, browse through the websites of corporations or industries that have products or services based on your field of study. Even, occasionally, run through some sites of activists. both those promoting your field and those fighting against it. All these sites will give you specific examples to highlight the more complex theories for your students; and, will help you decide what ‘voice’ you might carry through your research career.

 

Other people are also part of the plan

Another area which you might want to negotiate in your contract if it is not a well-established policy with your employer, is conference attendance.  Although online resources and conferences offer enormous factual input, they lack the overwhelming advance of ‘hallway chats’ where new ideas are still being formulated and bandied around with a chance for you to be a part of the discussion.

You may also want to reach out to others working on similar projects to your own, or, ones you might want to consider.  Growth often comes from combined efforts.
Social media groups or other online communities of practice are some of the best kept secrets for professional development.

Also, not to be overlooked is both the formal and informal interaction with your immediate colleagues and those from other faculties.  Any forum (coffee, wine, or almond milk) for discussion can spark ideas for you to pursue in your research.

Monitor and tweak your plan.

At the risk of sounding like every expert who is preaching analytics, these days, we suggest you do at least an informal assessment of how your plan is working.

  • Re-assess the resources you are using to make sure they are still providing you with valuable input.
  • Re-assess your review process to make sure you are actually getting the input.
  • Re-assess your research goals. Either reconfirm them, or, put in place the systems to back up the new thrust.

Always remember why you entered this field in the first place.

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Sunday December 11th, 2016

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