Q: I have recently been appointed to the position of co-chair for my university’s Junior Faculty Research Roundtable (JFRR). JFRR is a forum for untenured library faculty to discuss their research ideas, concerns, and experiences. I have been brainstorming ideas on how to keep this roundtable engaging for all of the members. Can someone offer suggestions?
SM: Great question and one that many of us struggle with as we find ourselves involved with (and in charge of) discussion groups and committees. I have recently been involved in developing a writing support group for academic librarians in my area. The members are from various types of libraries, some are tenure-track and some are not. It has been challenging coming up with discussion topics — and a format — that will be of interest to everyone, every time. And… I’ve learned a few things: 1.) it isn’t possible to cater to everyone’s interests or needs because everyone is at a different stage in their research/writing, and 2.) these groups can be invaluable, if only to provide a supportive community and safe place to explore ideas and learn from one’s peers.
Here are some suggestions to help keep your roundtable engaging:
- Have each meeting be focused on one particular aspect of the writing/research/tenure process. For example, have someone talk about how to analyze data, and perhaps give a demo of software or tools that he/she has used. And, for another meeting, have someone talk about the query and acceptance process.
- Divide meetings into specific chunks (and keep track of time). For example: invite a guest speaker to talk for 30 minutes on a specific topic, then have a group discussion with questions for the speaker, and end with accountability talks which could mean going around the room to find out what each person is working on and to check in on his/her progress, or having people break off into smaller groups (could be based on type of project, or similar subject), to discuss in their groups.
- Try to plan out future meeting topics in advance so people know what is on the agenda and can schedule accordingly. Not every topic will appeal to everyone, and that’s OK.
- At the end of each meeting, give attendees a goal to aim for by the next meeting (or within a certain time frame), whether that is gathering research, writing five pages, or sending query letters and answering CFPs.
- Encourage collaboration. Help attendees find mentors or potential co-authors, who can help support them on a particular project. Everything is more fun with a partner.
- Use the meetings to actually do some research or writing, to find and discuss CFPs and to get started on some part of a project. Have attendees write for ten minutes – give them a topic (or writing prompt) if they need one. This can help to get the creative juices flowing, and provide them with something to take with them, because we know that getting started is typically the hardest part.
- Assign reading materials for discussion — use the group as a book club, in a sense. We can’t be good writers without first being good readers.
- Partner people up into accountability pairs, so they can communicate between meetings and help to keep one another motivated.
- Incorporate some fun into it. Tenure can be a stressful process, so try to lighten it up with practical tricks and tips to help any writer, and discussions on non-scholarly writing (blogs, newsletters, trade magazines, etc.).
It is a lot of work to chair committees and roundtables and to organize meetings and come up with topics, so I applaud your efforts to seek out suggestions and I hope that I’ve provided you with a few that you can use to help make your roundtable discussions a tad more engaging. Good luck!