Making the Space: Project Updates

As part of the year of support through IRDL, our cohort had monthly meetings between August 2019 and May 2020. Each month, a couple of cohort members would update the group on their project’s progress and share both successes and challenges. A common thread in these updates was around making space for our projects and being protective of that research time. We were all finding it difficult to hold research space; sometimes closing our office door or blocking time on our calendars didn’t go the way we had hoped. This difficulty in creating space at our own institutions was different than our experiences at IRDL in creating research space. One of the reasons IRDL was beautiful was that we were intentionally given a lot of space to focus on our project. I remember telling my department the week before I left for IRDL that I would be working, but not checking or answering emails while I was in LA. That space gave me the ability to spend my brain energy on my project design: debating sampling choices, choosing a matrix interview style, and sketching out the activity (which would become our student engagement journey maps). Ultimately, I felt more prepared to start Phase 1 of this project when I returned to Pennsylvania because some of those larger theoretical questions had been answered. I knew how to move forward and felt confident in those decisions because I had spent so much time developing the project at IRDL.

Of course, as the school year went on, I also had Ally to help hold me accountable and to continue to create space for our research. As I’ve talked about on this research blog before, having a collaborator who is excited about this project keeps my excitement and motivation high. When Ally finished her time on this project in July, I slowly felt the project slip from the top of my priority list. This was especially true as the pandemic continued, the library prepared for a return to campus, and collectively, we felt (and feel) anxiety with the start of a new fall semester. It didn’t matter if I attempted to block time, there was always an email I needed to respond to or a project that needed my attention. I started to feel out of the loop from this work and the sheer idea of getting back into the project felt a little daunting.

On Monday I had my regular monthly meeting with my supervisor. On our running agenda I included “Creating space for Scholar work?” and explained what I was feeling. As we talked about intentional (and aggressive) calendar blocking, my supervisor said, “Hailley, this research is a priority for you.” That reminder, from not the voice in my head, was more helpful than I realized. Hearing someone else, my supervisor no less, confirm this research is important, helped push me back into the land of this project. After our monthly meeting, I started putting together the documents for my IRB paperwork and began to revise my interview questions. The next day (Tuesday), I met with Jill, my IRDL mentor, and we were able to workshop my research questions and interview questions. I left that meeting feeling excited to interview questions and started to imagine asking students these questions in the coming months. Today, I finalized my IRB paperwork and got that submitted to be reviewed. I also returned to my undergraduate research assistant job descriptions and made sure that when I can put a call out for applicants, I’ll be ready. Slowly, the ball is rolling again.

A picture of three pages of an interview guide, with handwritten edits.
My handwritten notes on what to change with our interview guide

I doubt that I’ll ever get to a point where I feel 100% confident all the time I can create space for this work. Things pop up and sometimes, priorities have to be slightly adjusted. But I do think having those reminders, internally and externally, goes a long way to feeling good about creating that space. It feels like my brain is finally back in mapping the student engagement journey land, and let me tell you, I’m jazzed.

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Student Engagement Coordinator at Penn State University Libraries. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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