posted October 29, 2012

Book Designed to Help Undergraduate Faculty Succeed as Researchers

A new book by retired Hope College chemistry professor Dr. Stephen Taylor explores the qualities that enable faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions to succeed as researchers in addition to teaching.

Taylor’s book, “Publish and Flourish,” was published this fall by the college.  The title is a play on the familiar saying within graduate schools that professors seeking career success must “publish or perish,” with scholarship often coming at the expense of teaching.  In contrast, Taylor considers how faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions, where working with students is itself a priority, have been able to excel as both scholars and teachers, and through the combination provide an even better education.

It’s a topic that hits close to home at Hope, which is nationally recognized as a leader in using collaborative research—through which students work alongside faculty mentors—as a teaching tool.  Taylor, who was a member of the Hope chemistry faculty from 1985 until retiring in 2009, conducted research in organic chemistry collaboratively with dozens of Hope students during his time at the college and had also involved students in research while previously teaching at Olivet Nazarene University for seven years.

“Pursuing authentic, publishable research through faculty-student collaboration is now well established as one of the best learning practices in undergraduate science education; thus, colleges and universities strive to identify and recruit faculty members who demonstrate the strongest promise to become successful as teacher-scholars,” said Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and a professor of chemistry at Hope.  “For this reason, the book by Dr. Taylor, emeritus professor of chemistry at Hope College, a revered teacher, and a highly published researcher, is a must read for faculty and administrators who are engaged in hiring new faculty.”

The book examines both personal and institutional factors that play a role, and suggests steps that individual faculty and programs can take to improve.

Success begins, Taylor notes, with a passion for the process—a quality that many faculty and administrators that he interviewed for the book described as a “fire in the belly.”  Throughout the book he considers individual characteristics that play a role, including organization and creativity, and discusses ways that the abilities can be developed.  In addition to offering insights regarding successful faculty researchers themselves, he explores more program-related ideas, such as how faculty at smaller programs with limited resources can enhance their work through collaboration with colleagues elsewhere, and the importance of an encouraging institution.

Taylor also considers the benefits that come from teaching and conducting research at a primarily undergraduate institution.  Not least among them, he notes, is the opportunity that a smaller program provides to get to know students well and to be able to help them as individuals, using both teaching and research to instruct and inspire them.

Taylor was originally a research scientist at DuPont, but shifted to undergraduate teaching mostly because of the important difference that his own experience at a primarily undergraduate institution, Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University), had made to him.  Ironically—or, perhaps, appropriately—his chemistry research mentor when he was an undergraduate was a Hope alumnus, Dr. Victor Heasley of the Class of 1959.

Taylor’s never regretted the career change.  As a mentor he made it his adage “to produce people that will out-produce you,” and he continues to enjoy following the careers of the students with whom he worked.

“If I’d stayed at DuPont I’d probably have been a little richer, but it’s been worth it,” he said.

Copies of “Publish and Flourish” are available for $12.95 at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore, which is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833.  The book is also available at no cost in digital form in the college’s institutional repository, located online at digitalcommons.hope.edu