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Collaboration: A Way to Promote Faculty Development and Reduce Burnout

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.

The Journey

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:

The Benefits

As we approach our 15th year of collaboration, we have discovered numerous benefits. We have:

And, once you are known to be an effective collaborator, others often want to collaborate with you, too.

The Challenges

As with any undertaking, there have been challenges along the way. They include:

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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

https://www.elsevier.com/connect/a-brief-guide-to-research-collaboration-for-the-young-scholar

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.

Bios:

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.