Navigating Scholarly Work as a New PA Educator

By Sarah Neguse, MS, PA-CFebruary 13, 2018

Education Forum attendees Cynthia Bennett and Katie Vornheder present their poster. Credit: PAEA

The thought of research and publishing can be intimidating — but with the right approach, it doesn’t have to be.

When I started my new career in PA education several months ago, I had very little understanding of the concept of scholarly work. Here I was trying to wrap my head around my new role in academia, and I failed to realize that a huge part of this role involves scholarly work. I knew that as an educator I would be encouraged (if not required) by my institution to engage in such work, but I could not establish what this meant in terms of the who, what, where, when, and why?

Fortunately, I joined a faculty of highly experienced educators who have helped guide me in understanding this process. Shortly after starting my new job, I participated in PAEA’s Faculty 101 workshop. Using resources discovered during the workshop and guidance from my colleagues, I have been able to start navigating the idea of scholarly work and figuring out where to begin.

Setting Goals

In order to tackle this portion of my job, I realized I would need to map out what specifically scholarly work meant for me, and how I was going to approach it. The first step was to understand why we do scholarly work. Yes, some of our institutions may require this as part of the promotion and tenure process; however, it is important to feel some sort of passion for it — or else it just becomes another part of our job description. For me, knowing that scholarly work will allow me to meet new people, develop professionally, and advance my career helps motivate me to do it. Though I have only just begun, here are a few of the do’s and don’ts I have learned so far when it comes to setting goals in achieving scholarly work:

DON’T reinvent the wheel. DO think outside the box.

While this may, on the surface, sound contradictory, they are in fact related. As an enthusiastic new faculty member, I wanted to get started on scholarly work right away and began creating lists and lists of ideas, without much thought about how any of the items might be accomplished, or how they might relate to my job responsibilities. Ultimately I realized I was trying to come up with ideas that I may not have the time, resources, or energy to complete. What I learned instead was to think about my current roles and responsibilities, combined with what I am passionate about, and decide how this can be translated into scholarly work. This still requires me to step outside of my comfort zone, but at least now I have created attainable goals that stem from work I am already doing as a PA educator.

DON’T rely solely on others. DO collaborate.

It is important to understand the value of collaboration when it comes to scholarly work. This might mean seeking advice from your mentor, talking with colleagues who have scholarly work experience to help guide you, or by collaborating with like-minded people on projects. However, it is also important not to rely on these individuals to get the job done for you. Be willing to challenge yourself. If you are going to join a research study group or publish a paper with a colleague, be prepared to contribute more than just your name. For example, you may have a skill for analyzing data, or understanding how best to find literature that relates to the project, while others may be better at planning, editing, or writing.

DON’T try to do it all. DO decide what is important to you.

It’s easy to try to dip your feet in every project, but given time constraints and obligations, it is best to decide what is truly important to you and your institution. Perhaps a PhD is a necessity in order to be promoted at your institution. This may push you to focus more of your time and energy on working towards a degree. On the other hand, if a higher degree is not a top priority, this gives you more time to focus on other forms of scholarly work such as publications and presentations.

DON’T ignore the obvious form of scholarly work. DO consider other options.

Initially, I did not think scholarly work was defined by anything outside of peer-reviewed publications. Although this does encompass the vast majority of what we consider scholarly work, it is not the only option. After speaking with several colleagues and exploring PA education, I have learned that there are several other avenues that can be taken. For example, scholarly work can be an oral or poster presentation at a national or regional conference, grant writing, test item writing, etc. Peer reviewing is also another form of scholarly work. Within this realm, there are numerous opportunities to review for professional affiliations, your local PA regional conference, peer-reviewed journals, etc.

The bottom line: Keep an open mind about what scholarly work is and is not, identify options that fit with your interests and daily work, and collaborate to ensure the best use of everyone’s talents.

Sarah Neguse, MS, PA-C

Sarah is an assistant professor at Rocky Vista University’s developing PA program in Parker, Colorado. She has a clinical background in internal and family medicine.