Physics Department Statement on Scholarship

What forms of scholarship define the work of those in your department (program) at their best?

Scholarship in physics naturally includes theoretical and laboratory research undertaken to develop a better understanding of physical systems. A broader definition of scholarship includes investigations in the liberal arts. These, often collaborative, investigations probe the boundaries where our understanding of physical systems interacts with other areas of human knowledge and activity. Scholarly work can also include attempts to better understand how people learn physics and the development of novel approaches to fostering an understanding of physics.

What forms of peer review—including those beyond the Luther campus—are appropriate for that work?

A simple answer is to list publications in peer-reviewed journals, books and conference presentations by faculty. We believe a more appropriate answer includes grant proposals written, on-campus faculty presentations, and faculty supervision of student research, conference presentations and publications. Because of their central role, we believe that forms of peer-review related to student research are essential. That is to say that the continued acquisition of grant money to fund student/faculty collaborative research and the acceptance of student papers and presentations growing out of this research is important evidence of scholarship because research work with students has a high priority in our department.

How can you encourage and enable your colleagues to see that such work bears fruit in their teaching?

The ability to discuss graduate school research options with students is important. Having hallway conversations about active research is a vital part of ensuring that students see our acquisition of knowledge of physical systems as a valuable, ongoing endeavor. The opportunities to explore open questions in the context of faculty/student collaborative research are key. These types of teaching in settings less formal than the classroom can be encouraged by providing seminars for faculty to introduce their research to students, creating opportunities for research with students and discussing our work with students on a regular basis.

What depth and range of achievement in scholarship at the third year, tenure review, and application for promotion for full professor should distinguish the work of Luther faculty?

By the time of third-year review we expect to see some evidence of progress in at least one of the categories listed above. A colleague might have written a proposal to acquire funding for a research lab, might have published a research paper or might have done faculty/student collaborative work leading to publication or presentation by the student. By the time of tenure review there should be evidence that the initial progress shown at the time of third-year review was not an aberration. By this we mean that our colleague should have shown further indication of scholarly work. This evidence may be initial progress in a different form or may be significant additional progress in the type of scholarship demonstrated at third-year review. For promotion to full professor, the candidate should have clearly demonstrated that scholarly work is habitual. The most germane forms of evidence of scholarship are:

  • Supervision of student projects that lead to student publications and/or presentations.
  • An effort to publish in peer-reviewed journals the results of work done during their tenure at Luther.

What distinctive forms of scholarship can thrive at a liberal arts college of the church?

Collaborative projects can thrive at a place like Luther. These projects might revolve around the interaction of science and religion, science and politics or the environment. For example innovative studies of science policy or the implications of extra-terrestrial intelligence fall into this category. Luther’s environment and size are also conducive to small-scale faculty/student collaborations. This “niche” work can thrive at small institutions where students and faculty develop close relationships. Examples of this work include experiments that involve minimal equipment or resources and are typically very narrowly focused. This work is of tremendous value to the student and always has the potential for producing intriguing results.

The exercise of thinking about scholarship in the Luther Physics Department encourages us to ponder what we would consider an ideal department. While we certainly do not share a common vision of the details of such an environment, we believe that the ideal department would clearly be one in which all faculty members loved physics, strove for a better understanding of the universe and worked to pass along that deep interest to our students. In this ideal department it easy to imagine one person spending summers away, doing collaborative research at larger institutions and building a record of publications, while still supervising modest student projects on campus during the academic year. Perhaps two faculty members spend most of their research time directing more substantial (or at least more numerous) student research projects. Yet another faculty member investigates new pedagogy and involves students interested in becoming teachers in the development of techniques and curricular materials to help undergraduates learn physics and related topics. Here each faculty member brings a unique strength to the department. That strength is shared in a way that builds a vibrant and healthy department, helping create and maintain a vibrant, environment for teaching and research. We understand that judging the quality and value of individual contributions becomes more difficult in this environment but that difficulty does not imply that the different people aren’t each making scholarly contributions to the benefit of the department.

(February 2002)