Productivity, research, and academia

June 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

My new position, happily, gives me a little space and time to work on research and writing. I love this aspect of academic work: learning, thinking, trying to construct and reconstruct analyses. I’m working on a few projects at the moment, including transcribing some interview material from my trip to India, sending out book proposals based on my dissertation research, and working on a new project with the Bluestocking Institute. I’m excited about all these projects and enjoy working on them, but I’m having trouble getting started and it’s taken me a while to work out why.

I suspect it’s mostly because I find it difficult to feel justified sitting down and taking the time to read, to think, to play around with ideas. This is partly because I’ve spent the last year keeping up a fairly cracking pace with teaching and side projects: there was always a stack of marking to do, notes to prepare, meetings to go to. Immediate, urgent tasks that offered the short-term satisfaction of knowing that I was ‘being productive’.  I think it’s also, perversely, partly due to the pressure to publish.

As Jonathan Burston, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Alison Hearn emphasise in the editorial of the latest issue of ephemera, “due to the assumed ease of research in the digital era, pressure mounts to produce and publish ever-increasing amounts of ‘knowledge’.”* Even if you’re a brilliant teacher, it’s difficult to find (or keep) teaching positions without publishing. Luckily for me I do enjoy research, and I want to share my ideas and get feedback. But even though I love doing research I’m sometimes a bit overwhelmed by feeling that I should be publishing right now, this second.

Research takes time. Surveying the literature takes time. Doing fieldwork takes time. It takes time to put your ideas together, to write, to edit, to fill the gaps that emerge. So I’m going to take a deep breath now and start reading some of the background work for my current research project, and do my best not to fret that it might not lead to a publication right now.

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* Not that this a particularly new observation – I just rather like this issue of ephemera and enjoyed having the chance to point people towards it.

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