Understanding faculty motivations for conducting scholarly work could help institutions better support faculty as researchers. What motivates faculty to be productive researchers is largely unknown as institutional, demographic, and social-environmental factors explain limited variance. A popular motivation perspective called self-determination theory posits that satisfaction of three basic psychological needs will determine faculty motivation for research: competence (perceived research expertise or skill), autonomy (freedom to choose research questions to study), and relatedness (feeling connected with colleagues and students). If these needs are supported, faculty will experience optimal, autonomous motivation (engaging in research because it is enjoyable and/or valuable) and be more likely to successfully produce scholarly work.
Researchers sought to better understand the relationship between motivation and faculty research productivity by examining the results from a set of items about faculty motivation, perceptions of research success, and number of publications appended to the 2018 administration of the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) at 19 institutions. They found that autonomous (intrinsic and identified) motivation was indeed the strongest predictor of research productivity. External motivation (engagement based on receiving rewards, payment, etc.) had a relatively small but positive relationship with research productivity, while introjected motivation (engagement based on feeling guilt or shame) had no relationship. Additionally, the strongest relationships between basic needs and increased autonomous motivation for faculty research productivity were increased autonomy and competence.
These results imply that institutions could better support faculty motivation for researcher by helping to satisfy their basic psychological needs as researchers. Institutions should encourage faculty to pursue lines of research they are most interested in and passionate about as well as allow for flexibility in when, where, and how they do their research to foster research autonomy. Institutions could increase faculty research competence by supporting professional development through workshops, conferences, interdisciplinary collaborations, and sabbaticals.
More details about this study, presented at the 2019 AERA conference, can be found here.