Faculty development and burnout pose challenges within departments and colleges of academic institutions. Constrained resources—asked to do more with less time, money, and personnel—contribute to faculty feeling overwhelmed (Gabriel, 2017) and can make faculty development difficult (Watts & Robertson, 2011). Ultimately, world-wide changes in institutions of higher education demanding exceptional instructional quality and research quantity have made the academic environment challenging for faculty and students, increasing burnout of faculty and staff (Sabagh, Hall & Saroyan, 2018).
In this article, the authors share how collaboration has helped them develop as professionals, increased productivity, and mitigated burnout.
Seek Out Collaborators
One well-known aspect of faculty evaluation is scholarly productivity. Maslach (2011) and Gabriel (2017) have suggested that collaboration promotes engagement and teamwork in the workplace across departments which can lead to increased faculty productivity.
Aijaz Shaikh (2015) recommends that scholars seek out collaborators in order to improve their careers. “Collaboration is one of the most important parts of your research career, so it’s surprising there are no universally agreed guidelines for scholars looking to initiate collaboration.”
According to Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright (2011), natural groups (tribes) can be formed among persons of like interests, passion, and common goals. Tribe members encourage and motivate each other. Their relationships involve high levels of engagement, innovation, creativity, and pursuit of a greater good. This is key to collaboration.
A Nurse, an Educator, and a Scientist
The purpose of this article is to describe how collaboration among three educators with different backgrounds and perspectives, yet a common interest in nursing student retention, evolved into a productive presentation and writing team.
A nurse, an educator, and a scientist met while working together on a multi-institutional student retention grant. Each one brought a unique perspective to the goal of student retention. The nurse brought the perspective of nursing education and practice; the scientist brought knowledge of biomedical research and pathophysiology, and the educator brought a background in evidence-based learning strategies. We quickly discovered a shared interest in nursing student success and retention.
In 2004, three institutions came together through a program called Consortium to Advance Nursing Diversity and Opportunity (CANDO; HRSA Workforce Diversity Grant #1 D19HP02641-03-00), to find ways to increase retention of at-risk nursing students (Igbo et al., 2011). After the grant ended, the authors stayed in touch looking for opportunities to put into practice the lessons learned from the grant. Our first major collaborative effort was the development of a nursing student success elective for one of the programs (Igbo, Landson, & Straker, 2014). Our next project focused on developing a nursing-specific book to use with the course (Straker & Kelman, 2007). Other dissemination activities produced from the grant include conference presentations, journal articles (Landson, Straker, & Igbo, 2015), and a book chapter.
When collaborating, we prefer to meet in person when possible, as we inevitably feed off each other’s energy and sense of humor; however, the reality of busy schedules requires much of our collaboration to be via email, phone, or video conferences.
The Process and Lessons Learned
Along the way, we have learned many lessons and would like to share these insights with future collaborators:
- We self-elected to work together. While each of us also collaborates with others, we continue to work as a team of three.
- Whoever has the idea initially, is the person who takes the lead. However, no matter who takes the lead, the work is always circulated to the others multiple times for input.
- We devised a simple document-handling system of adding our initials and the date to the file name each time we update a document.
- We are constantly on the lookout for articles that relate to our interests and share them with the team.
- We actively seek input from each other’s professional domain.
- We take nothing personally. Our goal is to create the best possible presentation or article, so we remove our egos from the process. One person’s suggestion is not viewed as criticism of the other person, but as a way to make the “product” better. It takes some practice (a chance to use your “active listening” skills) but ultimately results in something of which we are all proud.
As we approach our 15th year of collaboration, we have discovered numerous benefits. We have:
- Grown professionally by working outside our comfort zones
- Received and offered peer mentoring
- Established synergy and created more publications and presentations than we would have individually
- Leaned on each other for personal and professional support
- Sustained implementation and dissemination of the benefits gained from the CANDO grant
- Modeled what healthy collaboration and collegiality looks like for faculty and students
- Had FUN working together
And, once you are known to be an effective collaborator, others often want to collaborate with you, too.
As with any undertaking, there have been challenges along the way. They include:
- Deciding when something is “good enough” for submission
- Finding the time to work on our projects
- Maintaining commitment to the project to ensure we keep moving forward (None of us live near the campus. It’s about a 30 to 90 minute drive each way.)
- Deciding which project to work on next
Contributing Factors for Success
We have found that the following factors contribute to our successful collaborations:
Time: Look for, then protect, dedicated meeting and writing time. When possible, try to meet for blocks of 2-4 hours. This may mean staying late and bringing (or ordering in) something to eat for supper. Sometimes we meet off campus to minimize interruptions.
Commitment: Even if potential collaborators have the time, they will also need to be committed to the project and committed to the other collaborators.
Team player: Each person must be willing (and able) to self-regulate his or her own ego and truly listen to the comments and insights of the others.
Similar values: As mentioned by Gabriel (2017), misalignment of values contributes to faculty burnout. Having similar values as your fellow collaborators helps build trust among the team as you work together toward a common goal.
We have presented at 20 professional conferences, organized by ten different national and international associations; developed one elective course; were awarded two grants; published two articles; one book chapter and one book.
Our plan, after nearly 15 years of working together, is to stay engaged with each other and with our disciplines as we work toward the common goal of student retention and success.
Collaboration is not a new idea, and we are but a few of those who have successfully collaborated together. However, the time for using collaboration as a faculty development strategy is here. Institutions, programs, and individual faculty members benefit when faculty are encouraged to collaborate. The research centers in many institutions also serve to initiate collaboration, but the beauty of this group is that we chose to work together. We have found that collaboration is an effective way to reduce burnout, promote professional development, and create a legacy for other educators to build on.
Aijaz A. Shaikh (Posted on 24 November 2015). A brief guide to research collaboration for the young scholar: Working with other scholars can boost your profile, but some arrangements are more likely to lead to publication. Elsevier.com
Scott Gabriel (October, 2017). Moving from Silos and Burnout to Community and Engagement. Faculty Focus. Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/moving-silos-burnout-community-engagement/?utm_campaign=Faculty%20Focus&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=57001149&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9Y1IV2jlFWZmjUSDT3BqKdlde62bg_9DfK8bbnJZHykoZcrcfboAUUwkSD42kC1NojzaxnUxRYJ-qwik9e_DDvZ871_Q&_hsmi=57001149
Igbo, I.N., Straker, K.C., Landson, M.J., Symes, L., Bernard, L.F., Hughes, L. & Carroll, T.L. (2011, November/December). Multidisciplinary approach: An innovative strategy to improve retention of nursing students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nursing Education Perspectives, Volume 32, # 6, 375-379
Igbo, I.N., Landson, M.J., Straker, K.C. (2014). Nursing Student Retention Strategy: An Integrated Study Skills Elective. Innovations in Nursing Education: Building the Future of Nursing, Volume 2. Caputi, L. (Ed.) Washington, DC: National League for Nursing.
Landson, M.J., Straker, K.C., Igbo, I.N. (October 2015). Adapting a Social Media Strategy in the Classroom: PEET. Journal of Nursing Education, 54(10), 600
Logan, D. King, J., & Fischer-Wright H. (2011). Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. NY: Harper Business
Maslach, C. (2011). Burnout and engagement in the workplace: New perspectives. European Health Psychologist, 13(3), 44–47.
Sabagh, Z., Hall, NC & Saoyan, A. (2018). Antecedents, correlates and consequences of faculty burnout. J. Educational Research, 60(2), 31-156 Straker, K.C. & Kelman, E.G. (2007). Vital Skills, Karista Press.
Immaculata Igbo, PhD, is a professor of Pathophysiology and Pharmacology with over 35 years teaching experience in higher education.
Ms. Margie Landson, MSN, CNE, RN, is a clinical associate professor with over 25 years of teaching experience.
Ms. Kathleen Straker, MEd, is a study skills education specialist.