On putting research first

I have to, now that I am in that writing group. The goal is to actually put as much time into it as my contract stipulates, namely 30% of 60 hours or 18 hours per week. This, of course, can be reduced in some weeks since the consideration is that it is a 40 week year, whereas really I work about 48 weeks. But the concept remains the same: 720 hours of research and writing per year, one way or another.

Note that if you work 360 days, that is only 2 hours of research and writing per day. This, actually, was how I wrote my dissertation: an hour of writing in the morning, an hour of research and revision in the afternoon, and of course some thought in the meantime (one cannot help that). It took a year with five days off and I also got 360 total pages including notes and bibliography. That was to get a full draft after having done initial research, and there were revisions after that. So no, I did not write my dissertation start to finish in only one year with only two hours of work per day, but you get my larger point which is how consistent it all is. The time I spent then is exactly the same kind of time I am assigned now, and if I wrote a dissertation manuscript while doing another job then, I can write a book manuscript that way now.

Naturally, there are other difficulties, since my other job now is harder and more demanding than my other job then, and there are logistical difficulties, and so on, but the theory still stands.

I always thought that research was just part of the job, the reason you were there, really, but in other ways just a normal part of the job. It was only after becoming a professor that I was told it was not, but that is an old tale from earlier years of this weblog. Now one is back to feeling one has a right to research or rather, a right to be a person who does research.

Time must still be made every day. Research first, teaching second, service third. I found that normal at one time, until the order was reversed on me. Yet that is the natural order, l’ordre des choses, the nature of things. On what has to be put off so as to put research first: the rule is never to be overwhelmed by the mountain of paperwork, or of reading that could be done for class. Set time limits on those things.

I knew all of this already, when I was younger than I am now, and I am reactivating it.

*

After giving that out of field paper Friday, and being assailed once again by desires to retrain, it came to me: what I want to retrain for, I cannot necessarily do as a paid job. Except if I held an academic position in said field. But I cannot afford to retrain, so the answer is just to move my research program in that direction; eventually I will cross over in an interesting way. This is a version of a conclusion to which I had come before, and the present research project was designed in that sense; perhaps I can push it still further.

This leads us to another important point, often overlooked in academic advice: your research program has to be something you really want to do. Not something you are merely willing to do or even happy to do, but something you really want to do. That is what sustains people. And this question of desire is why standard statements like “The only good article is an offprint,” and so on, so obfuscate the point.

Axé.

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8 Comments

Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman

8 responses to “On putting research first

  1. Jonathan

    I like the idea of doing research as part of the stipulated hours in the contract. That puts to rest the habitual arguments that one should only do research over the summer, or only after exhausting all possible committee work.

  2. Z

    Oddly, those are arguments I got from department chairs, assigned mentors, and so on after I became a professor. The idea of doing it as part of the job, is what I had gotten as a student at the University of California. It really does work.

  3. One of the first things I did on starting my job was calculate how many hours of each a day 40/40/20 came out to. I chose my dissertation topic because it was something I really wanted to do, and I am picking my future research projects that way too. Honestly, it never occurred to me to do either of these things any other way until I read this post, so now I feel that I must be either incredibly brilliant or incredibly naive.

  4. Z

    I have various theories on how that gets distorted. In a practical sense, I remember my cohort’s first semester and I see how it got skewed – first semester culture shock and going into emergency mode. I still used research as refuge then, because it was before I got traumatized for it by things not having to do with the university, but first semester culture shock and emergency mode threw a lot of people off.

    In my case the distortion came later, but had been sowed earlier. At one level it involved making choices of field faster than I would have liked, and getting locked into second choice projects therefore – projects I was fine with at my pleasant graduate institution, but not passionate enough about to sacrifice quality of life for.

    At a much more important level, though, it was about NOT having learned one had a work that was one’s own, but having learned instead that one could merely write acceptable papers which would then get one jobs to pay one’s bills (that is true about research, but not sufficient reason for long projects).

    My indoctrination was incredibly negative, really: your work will not be yours or original or good, but it must be done and acceptable or you will be out on the street! The ideas that YOU can create new knowledge, that that is your JOB, that people believe you can do it an are interested in what you might find, are ideas I am only discovering now.

    Yet back when I was naive in the way you say, I was also brilliant in the way you say. I based it on what I had done as an undergraduate and even before: how much total work is there, how much time is there, how long will each thing take, and based on all that, what plans should I make. I did this because I had not acquired the complexes I acquired later, and I was called naive but was actually wise.

  5. It took me FOREVER to realize that the best – the only – way to choose a research project was to work on what interests you. It should be very easy for a literary critic to find topics. Just work on the novels (poetry, drama) that you really love reading.

    Years had to pass before it dawned on me that this was possible. I used to have this perverted notion that in order to be valuable, research had to be painful. One picks up all sorts of idiotic conditioning as one goes along. :-(

  6. Z

    …or in my case, a thematic topic or theoretical issue you really want to understand (as opposed to just enjoy).

    I went on for years, originally, without hearing that it was supposed to be painful, difficult, impossible, and all of this … but what I found really destructive was the idea that it was selfish and therefore bad … self indulgent.

  7. You sound so much happier lately.

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