Research at a PUI is a different beast than what most folks have been trained for. Ph.D.’s and most postdocs happen at research institutions. The different pace and responsibilities often require major changes in how we conduct research. (1/n)
As someone who has spent a lot of time in a PUI (undergrad, postdoc, PI), I’ve seen several different successful strategies. I’m sure some of these apply to research at R1 institutions, but are more pronounced at PUIs. (2/n)
Pace is a challenge at PUIs. It takes years to train an undergrad, and then they graduate. You need a pipeline of student to step in as seniors graduate. Grad students can shepherd many papers from start to finish, but PUI papers often involve multiple undergrad theses. (3/n)
So, how do faculty at PUIs go about research? The big thing is that the student is always the focus. A student can have a successful summer research experience just by learning techniques--even if none of their experiments/data end up getting used. (4/n)
The focus for undergraduate education is more to get them ready for research after graduation. Posters and presentations are great for undergrads, as is appearing on paper (if they were lucky enough to join at project toward the end). (5/n)
I feel bad for the undergrads who lay the groundwork for a paper, but because of the slow pace of research at PUIs, they don't appear as a coauthor for several years after graduation. It doesn't help them get into grad school, and it doesn't help them get a GRFP. (6/n)
Although research at PUIs is more about training undergrads than crushing publications, we still need to publish in order to get the grants to train the students. So, what is it like to publish from a PUI? (7/n)
Option 1: carve a niche. I’ve seen many successful PUI colleagues find themselves a niche of their own without too much competition from faster-paced R1 groups. Some people can keep producing good work from their niche for decades and train many good students.
Option 2: collaborate: Maybe your PUI doesn't have the fancy equipment you need--TEM, XPS, XRD, or other TLA (three letter acronym). Maybe you need beam time on a syncrotron, maybe you need to tap into the resources of a larger R1 group. (9/n)
Finding the right collaborators can be a way to stay relevant with your research and extend your students' networks. Downside: tenure committees and grant reviewers might lose sight of 'your' contribution. (10/n)
My favorite thing about research at a PUI is that *for now* the expectations are not quite so obscene. No need to worry about constantly cranking out 'sure thing' pubs. Instead, you can focus on what truly interests you, regardless of its chances, or the perceived impact. (11/n)
The flashiest paper of my career came from a PUI (with collaborators at 5 R1s). This was a high risk paper that I could afford to potentially 'waste' a year on because I didn't need to crank out layups. Less pressure meant I could afford the risk... (12/n) pnas.org/content/early/…
...While I'm thrilled with that paper, I'm no more proud of it than others that ended up in Org. Biomol. Chem. or Journal of Polymer Science Part A. And honestly, undergrads who coauthor OBC or J. Poly. Sci. papers receive just as good training as those on a PNAS paper. (13/n)

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