Friday, May 27, 2011

Being a More Efficient, Productive Academic while Thinking Differently About What We Produce

There has been a lot of discussion, as we gear up for conference season and meeting our summer research/writing goals, about how to be more efficient or productive. Digiwonk asks if it is, indeed, ok to reuse and recycle your work in higher education. In response, Jo Van Every writes that recycling is, in fact, a wonderful thing, especially if you keep your audience in mind (hmmm...that sounds suspiciously like advice I've given my undergrads...). Digiwonk continues with her great advice by showing how much you can accomplish with just 30 minutes of (really focused) time

But much of the focus on adapting or recycling is based off of more traditional means of communicating our research: changing the conference presentation into an article, public lecture, book chapter, etc... This, unfortunately, doesn't help me very much, as I no longer write my conference presentation. Yes, that's right, I don't try to cram everything I have to say into 8-10 pages for a 20 minutes presentation. I have an idea of what I want to say, some speaking notes, a few important quotes written down, and that's it. While these presentations are intended to eventually become an article, it's not as easy to convert a few notes and quotes as it is a more polished conference presentation. But this again has to do with audience; I'm thinking of them sitting through my presentation, not of me later trying to hack out an article.

But I also think that focusing on primarily adapting our conference presentations (or seminar papers or carving up our dissertations or Master's thesis for articles) doesn't encompass the rich and varied nature of what many academics produce and write today.  For example, I just adapted some of my blog posts for a call for submissions on the state of higher education today. The tone clearly called for a style that was less formal and more conversational, making it an easy (or easier) transition. Again, this may work against me and reflect my (destructive) generalist tendencies, but I've worked hard on these blog posts and I'm still old-school, so I get a kick out of seeing my writing in print. 

But it goes beyond that. Failed grant applications become the basis for the next grant application which becomes a book proposal. Abstracts that weren't accepted become the basis for the next project or a place to hold ideas. Today I submitted a book proposal for that project. It was remarkably similar to the "research narrative" I submitted to earn my summer research fellowship. But again, this isn't old news. And it still relies on old/traditional means of sharing our work and research.

Websites and blogs become incubators and collective spaces for working through problems and ideas. As I work through my Dany Laferrière project, I record my progress and process on my (other) blog. I'm not sure what it will turn into, but I know that it allows me to record my thoughts, observations, and stray ideas as they happen, but it also serves as a way to share not just my research, but the process behind the production of my final project. Maybe it stems from my dissertation research, dealing not only with archival research, but the creative process and collaborative forces participating therein that I am aware of how mysterious the process of creating a piece of work appears to be. But I am also aware of how enriched the process becomes the more people who are involved. 

Why not have a blog that reflects our process, our progress, and our questions as it relates to our academic work? Why must we keep thinking in terms of the seminary/presentation/paper/monograph? Check out Sample Reality's post examining the same ideas: It's about sharing.

1 comment:

  1. This is a thoughtful question and one which, I suspect, has multiple answers.

    I used to blog my writing all the time, in process, and the end product. Then I discovered that blogging the end product meant I could not get it published in a more culturally accepted academic venue.

    Since that time, I have mostly limited my development of writing on the blog to ideas, abstracts, and interesting readings related to the research which I am doing.

    If I encounter a problem or a frustration, I also blog about it occasionally, but only if I do not think it reflects badly on me. (I don't really expect an employer or search committee to read through the entire nine years' worth of 2100+ posts on my professional blog, but I don't want the one thing that is read to make me look like an idiot either!)

    With my own personal focus on the scholarship of pedagogy, it can be argued that each of my posts is discussing my research. But, again, it is not how the majority of the academics, even technologically aware colleagues, would perceive my work.

    I like the idea of being transparent on the process of writing our work, particularly for our students, but I also know that without careful contextualization, the students can misunderstand and spread a false sense of our professionalism.

    For example, I wanted the students to know that I too have experienced the frustration of the "red ink pen" on my work, even recently, in the editing of a journal article. So I showed them, visually, but not really reading through the work, all the editor's marks. Not too long after that, I heard that students were complaining about my grading their papers for grammar when I did not have correct grammar myself. I had to go back in and show them a particular section where the editor insisted that I rewrite the sentence because "However" cannot be used to start a sentence. (Er, yes, it can. But not in that journal.)

    Had I not had students who were willing to come ask about the perceptions garnered from my attempt at transparency, I might have had significant push back from the class without ever understanding what had initiated it.

    Despite my experience, I like the idea of the transparency and think it would be particularly rewarding for graduate students to peruse. (So, next spring, depending on what the grad class is that I am assigned, you may have a lot of my students combing through your other blog.)


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