This consortium is devoted to helping faculty, graduate students and professionals learn current developments in various areas of research methods and statistics.
Larry Williams proudly refers to himself as a trailing spouse.
While he and his wife of more than 40 years, Margaret L. Williams, worked in faculty positions at the same universities for the first 25 years of their careers, that began to change when she developed an interest in becoming a dean.
“We were just becoming empty nesters around that time,” Williams said. “I was very established in my career, so I could move and be happy wherever I was going.”
To their delight, Margaret was named the dean and professor of management at the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business in the fall of 2017. Williams worked at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a few more years until he saw a Texas Tech University faculty position open that fit his teaching interests.
Williams applied and was hired as the James C. and Marguerite J. Niver Chair in Business and a professor of management in 2019. He brought not only his expertise and supportive nature to the Rawls College, but also a center he developed 25 years prior: the Consortium for the Advancement of Research Methods and Analysis (CARMA).
“It was just natural that if we had an opportunity to go somewhere, they were always interested in having me and CARMA because their faculty and students would get access to all of the resources, events and programs we deliver,” Williams said. “We have a worldwide brand that is really a positive one, so it can help bring recognition to the university.”
Williams established CARMA when he was at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1997 as an interdisciplinary consortium devoted to helping faculty, graduate students and professionals learn current developments in various areas of research methods and statistics. Its focus is on management and organizational sciences, which he said is his passion.
Williams found the professional associations that faculty and doctoral students belonged to within his field were beneficial, but only within certain limits. He wanted CARMA to aim beyond the resources already available and provide educational training to develop better researchers.
“It turns out, that need was important,” he said. “Like any scientific area, the best methods and tools are constantly changing.”
Since its inception, CARMA has had four other homes: Wayne State University (2010-2015), University of North Dakota (2015-2017), University of Nebraska (2017-2019) and Texas Tech (2019-present).
Over the years, it grew to become a non-profit unit that provides continuing education on research methods and data analysis (introductory to advanced level topics). Webcast lectures on specific statistical and methodological topics, immersive short courses and interactive panel sessions develop skills and provide hands-on experience with the application of statistics and research methodology.
CARMA also is self-funded by revenue from its different programs. As of last year, 200 universities from around the world paid a membership fee so their faculty and students could access CARMA events.
“That was an increase in more than 50 schools from our past numbers,” Williams said. “As we improved and did more, it raised awareness about CARMA and helped us grow. In fact, if you look at the list of schools within the U.S. that have been members over the past five years, it's pretty much every major research university that has doctoral programs.”
CARMA at Texas Tech
CARMA always hosted short courses in person at the different universities where Williams was employed and even nine universities internationally. These networking opportunities allowed CARMA to build a community of about 5,000 members who have attended at least one event in the last five years.
Williams was disappointed when those in-person connections halted during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, he said this period of closures, quarantines and isolation helped CARMA further develop as it delivered educational programs online.
“When the universities shut down, people needed new ways of accessing educational content to improve their skills,” Williams explained. “It was very easy for us to take everything we were doing and offer it online.”
CARMA provides about 60 events to its members each year. To recruit high achievers in the academic community as CARMA presenters, Williams stays actively involved in professional associations, reads scholarly journals and seeks input from colleagues.
“In any given year, we have more than 50 different faculty from universities all over the world who contribute,” he said. “We're very lucky that the more senior participants are regularly willing to devote their time to our cause. I'm also told if you're known as somebody who contributes to CARMA, that's considered high status. So, junior faculty are thankful to be involved and have their name associated with it.”
Joel Koopman, a TJ Barlow Professor of Business Administration at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School, expressed a similar sentiment in a video shared on Oct. 2, promoting his CARMA webcast lecture titled “Experience Sampling Methods.”
“Thank you for the honor of being able to participate in this series as an avid consumer of the CARMA webcasts over the years,” Koopman told Williams during their chat. “So many of my friends and idols in the field have done these, and it's super exciting for me to now be able to join that crew. So, I just want to thank you for this opportunity. You've got a great product here.”
Williams appreciates the support CARMA has received over the years from its community, united by one of its taglines, “It's what we do.” He is reminded of the impact their collective efforts make as he watches members' eyes light up the moment they begin to comprehend presentation material.
“We are regularly reminded of how exciting the process of science is and how great it is to help people improve themselves,” Williams said, “At the same time, we're making connections with people with common interests. We've really become a group of people who believe in the same things and care about making the world a better place.”
The 2024 new year is already bright for CARMA with six live online short courses during Jan. 3-5. And to Williams' delight, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, CARMA will resume its in-person short courses Jan. 10-12 through three presentations hosted at the Texas Tech DFW facility.
CARMA also plans to bring in-person short courses to North Carolina in May, Michigan in June and Australia in July.
“We're excited to get back to doing international in-person short courses again, because the people who are instructors really enjoy getting to travel and teach their content to people around the world,” Williams said. “All of that outreach effort from the short courses helps build our brand and reputation.”
Moving forward, Williams would like to push CARMA's international growth as he believes faculty and students at universities overseas oftentimes have less access to resources like they provide.
He recognizes this is a large ambition as he juggles CARMA duties with his other responsibilities on the Texas Tech campus, but he is fortunate to receive any help he needs from the Rawls College.
“There are people in a variety of departments who regularly help with our questions, so we're thankful for such a supportive environment,” he said. “There've been a whole lot of people that have helped make CARMA what it is, and I'm very grateful for all they do. I'm just honored and privileged to lead the way.”
Texas Tech is Williams' seventh university as a faculty member – not because he cannot keep a job, he joked. He is just surprised that in this late stage of his career he has found a university not only where CARMA can thrive, but where he can share in a prideful feeling of overall achievement and growth.
“I'm a big believer and supporter of the leadership at this university, which you might have expected a dean's husband to say, but it's really true,” he said. “I don't think we're going anywhere else, so I feel very lucky to end my academic career on a positive note at a university that's doing so many great and exciting things. If I can make some small contribution to that effort by running CARMA here, then that's very rewarding.”