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Keeping Your Research Alive
There are several good reasons for keeping your research program alive. An obvious one, for those who are fortunate enough to be on the tenure track, is to assure a sufficient publication record to be granted tenure at your institution. Of course, if you are not in a tenure track position, you should have just as much if not more incentive for working on your research. After all, you want to remain a strong candidate for when you are back in the job market. Even if your duties and interests are primarily in the teaching of mathematics, there are still compelling reasons for continuing to remain active in research. It's important for our students to realize that mathematics research is a current and ongoing activity! As working mathematicians, we have a responsibility to communicate the vibrancy of our subject. You may know that new results and ideas are being discovered every day, but do your students? Finally, there is also the general benefit that research, like any other mental exercise, helps keep your mind sharp.
Of course, since it's safe to assume that you are reading this article, you probably don't need convincing that research is important. The question is not ``why'' but ``how''. I can't offer a definitive answer here, only some suggestions.
This may mean simply writing a letter or email to ask for relevant preprints. You have to get your name out there. Go to conferences and present your work. I recommend the smaller regional research conferences as opposed to the large annual meetings. Not that the annual meetings are bad, in fact, if there's a special session in your area it can be quite productive. But smaller conferences often have fewer distractions and more opportunities to interact with people who have similar interests. Even if you don't know anyone, go to listen and ask questions and learn. Once you attend a few such conferences, you will start to see several familiar faces and you will have begun the important task of establishing professional contacts in your area. (Remember, you will need references for upcoming tenure and promotion reviews and any future job hunts, and you can only rely on your graduate school faculty for so long!) Don't be intimidated, most active research groups are happy to welcome new people and they may well suggest some interesting open questions for you to work on.
Ask your colloquium committee chair to invite someone in your area. Start a seminar, you only need two or three people with common interests. Don't let that feeling of isolation defeat you. Even if you're at the University of the Moon and you need to get together with colleagues at the Asteroid Belt Community College, make time to do it. It's worth it in the long run.
Set aside particular times of the week and find a quiet place to go where you'll be free from interruptions. This is really important, but it can be very hard to do. I don't want to turn this into a piece on routine time management techniques so I'll cop out by saying consult your local library for general help with the basics. Also, Terri will give several specific suggestions about time management for academic mathematicians in her presentation. One thing to do if you're having trouble managing your time is to say ``no'' when you are asked to do additional time consuming projects. There are many worthwhile projects but you can only do one thing at a time. In the early years of your career, you need to establish a research record. If saying ``no'' isn't an option, try to negotiate some release time from your teaching so that your research doesn't suffer by default.
The main thing to remember is to maintain a high level of professionalism in all of your projects, whether research, teaching or other professional activities. This translates roughly to ``Do a good job, and make your mama and papa proud.'' If you consistently do good work, then you will gain respect among your peers no matter what direction you pursue in this rapidly changing profession of ours.