Chemistry Department Statement on Scholarship

The Context

Luther College and the Chemistry Department at Luther College believe that in order to achieve the learning environment we wish for our students, our faculty must be effective teachers, and they must be active scholars, and they must be active in activities that help sustain the community of this place. The word “and” is important. No matter how active a faculty member is in supporting the general program of the college, general community service cannot substitute for scholarly activity if that person is to be an effective model for our students. By the same token, scholarly activity, even if exemplary, cannot make up for poor teaching. Each of the three activities is important; each requires ongoing attention, time, and commitment; and balancing all three is recognized as challenging.

The purpose of this document is to attempt to describe expectations for one of the three categories—scholarship. Whereas expectations in general must be consistent for the faculty of all departments, be included in the Faculty Handbook, and be the basis of decisions of promotion and tenure, this document attempts to answer the question of what scholarship means for faculty of the chemistry department. It is meant to provide guidance to the members of the department as they attempt to balance teaching, scholarship, and community service, by making as clear as possible departmental thinking about expectations for scholarship.

With respect to scholarship, the department desires of its faculty an organized and sustained effort to acquire new knowledge (discovery) and/or the application of new devices, procedures, or materials as a means of contributing to the field of chemistry. Public dissemination of the fruits of the efforts to peers is desired, and publishable scholarship that involves our students, is especially commendable.

A definition: Research is at the center of scholarly activity in chemistry, and, as a point of reference, this document uses a helpful phrase, “traditional chemical research” to refer to the kind of laboratory-based research undertaken by graduate students and post-docs. The results are typically published in peer-reviewed journals of the American Chemical Society or their equivalents.

Forms of scholarship

Traditional chemical research is not the only worthy form of scholarly activity that is recognized. Scholarship by faculty in the chemistry department can take several forms:

  • Traditional chemical research leading to publication in peer-reviewed chemical journals.
  • Supervision of undergraduate chemical research leading to student presentations and/or presentation/publication in more local venues.
  • Industrial research that may or may not lead to publication.
  • Research and publication in chemical education.
  • Writing for the chemistry community.
  • Writing science for the general public.

A note about grant proposals: Writing grant proposals is also viewed as an important scholarly activity and deserves recognition when it occurs. But, like reading the professional literature, its importance is one of a supportive role in accomplishing the other forms of scholarship listed, rather than being a goal of scholarship.

A note about publications: Presenting the results of one’s scholarship to professional peers is a major component of scholarship itself, and publication in peer-reviewed journals as the means of presentation is not only the most traditional measure of scholarship, but it also can be the most fulfilling aspect of scholarship for the scholar. Writing up research is frequently the most productive activity for creating new ideas to research. Contributing to the creation of knowledge of the field is what we wish to model for our students. Taking research to the stage of submitting results for publication frequently makes more effective the incorporation of the benefits of scholarship into one’s teaching. Writing is frequently a necessary part of critical thinking. All of these aspects of writing for publication indicate why this particular aspect of scholarship is valued so highly in our faculty.

Forms of peer review

As chemists we feel there are three kinds of peer review important to us at Luther: review for publication of our work in the chemical literature, review of grant proposals submitted to funding agencies, and review of our work through presentations at scientific (or educational) meetings. Publishing in peer-reviewed chemical journals is probably the most respected form of peer review in the profession. The publication record of the principal investigator, for example, can make or break an otherwise quality proposal for funding. Preparing proposals for the funding of scholarly work is also, in fact, presenting one’s scholarship to intense review by peers—usually evoking more focused critical response of peers than that by the third form of peer review, presentations and posters in professional meetings. The responses of proposal peer reviewers, as a measure of the quality of scholarship, can be as important as the awarding of a grant. Importantly, all three forms of peer review stimulate the rewards of scholarship in the undergraduate classroom.

Fruits of scholarship in the classroom

By its very nature, the fruits of scholarship that is associated with chemical research is most quickly and naturally manifested in the laboratory components of our courses—new instrumentation, new techniques, new things to look for, are all part and parcel of laboratory-based scholarship, and they become drivers for better student laboratory instruction. It is almost equally natural for the fruits of scholarship to appear in the classroom because it is the laboratory that informs how we know what we know in our discipline. Our senior chemistry seminar course provides an example: Chemistry faculty are expected to participate in the course. By “participating” we mean attending, assisting one’s share of the students in preparing their seminars, evaluating student presentations, occasionally giving the seminar, and helping host outside seminar speakers. Each of these responsibilities is enhanced by active scholarship


Not all forms of scholarship are equal, and there are various levels of achievement associated with each form. Furthermore, both the form of scholarship and the level of achievement sought can shift as the scholar progresses through his or her career. Following are expectations for members of the chemistry faculty at various stages of their career:

  • Experience in traditional chemical research is a requirement for hiring tenure-track faculty.
  • Scholarship of one or both of the first two forms (traditional chemical research leading to publication in peer reviewed journals; supervision of undergraduate research leading to student presentations or publications) is expected prior to recommendation for tenure. Such scholarship nearly always includes writing grant proposals.

Faculty during their first fifteen years are encouraged to use available sabbaticals to accomplish one or more of the first four forms of scholarship (traditional chemical research leading to peer-reviewed publication, chemical research that leads to creation and supervision of good undergraduate research projects, industrial research leading to consultation with students about chemistry in industry, research and publication in chemical education). The preparation of grant proposals is often a part of the scholarship and is recognized as such.

Mid/late-career faculty who have accomplished scholarship while at Luther in one or more of the first four forms above, may wish to engage in areas usually considered outside the realm of traditional chemical research. Such a shift of emphasis in scholarship is neither expected nor explicitly suggested, but it would be valued and recognized. It follows that sabbatical proposals to help accomplish these other forms of scholarship or to accomplish preparation for them could be appropriate at this stage of one’s career.

If circumstances warrant it, the College or the Department may encourage particular faculty development at any point in their career.

A note about expectations: The word “expectations” was chosen carefully, and the spirit in which it is used is that of providing the department’s best advice to developing faculty members for finding a direction which will lead to a successful career as a teacher/scholar in the chemistry department at Luther. The document contains no section on “minimums” or “mandatories.” The tenure/promotion process is not based on a checklist of such things. Nor does the document contain a section on “goals” which the department wishes to impose on individual members of its faculty, even though it has goals for the department and encourages its faculty to develop their own goals.

Scholarship and 3rd year review, tenure, and promotion to full professor:

Third year review: By this time it is important that the candidate be able to demonstrate “a good deal of promise of successful accomplishment.” The emphasis is on the word “promise.” In order to be able to demonstrate such promise, a plan for scholarship in one or both of the first two forms of scholarship listed above must not only be envisioned and articulated, but also that scholarship has, in fact, begun. Doing scholarship requires, for example, that laboratory equipment and materials are in place, proposals have been written where necessary, and time has been committed to conduct the proposed work. The preparation for presentation of one’s work to professional peers is highly valued and is an important measure of scholarship at this stage.

Tenure and associate professor rank: By this time is is important to have begun traditional chemical research should be leading to publication. Supervision of undergraduate research should have lead to several student presentations and/or publications. There should be evidence of significant fulfillment of the “promise of successful accomplishment” seen at 3rd year review, and there should be a plan for continued scholarship in one or both of these first two forms of scholarship.

Promotion to full professor: By this time, the promise for successful accomplishment of scholarship goals should be fulfilled. Successful accomplishment typically includes publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Good use should have been made of sabbaticals to further the candidate’s scholarship. Evidence of ongoing and sustained scholarship should be present.

Distinctive forms of scholarship that can thrive at a liberal arts college of the church

Intentional expenditure of faculty resources in interdisciplinary endeavors such as Paideia II courses, writing science for certain general publics, support for faculty to perform community service of a variety of sorts, including participation in chapel are all examples of activities that may be regarded as scholarly activities that are, perhaps distinctive for this kind of an academic institution.

(reviewed September 2011)