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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Competition

Scholarship is inherently competitive. Resources are limited (jobs, fellowships). You don't want to write the 14th best book on William Carlos Williams. It barely seems worth it. You are competing for the attention of readers and for the secondary benefits that research brings--mostly the opportunity to do more of it!

Yet our communitarian values enter into conflict with this competitive spirit. We want to be encouraging of our students and helpful to our colleagues, even colleagues at other universities who are our implicit competitors. Many people also find the competitive ethos repellent, and it is hard to say that they are wrong. Scholarship is inherently collaborative: we build on insights of past scholars. No knowledge belongs to one person alone; no idea is private property, even the most original one.

This issue comes to a head with the Graduate Students. Really, my job with them is to kick their ass just to get them to the level where they will be "competitive" on the job market and be able to publish if they get the kind of job where they will be doing research. Even the people who shun competition, I hear them put down the work of scholars whose work is substandard. One dissertation student whose ass I kicked repeatedly (metaphorically speaking of course) produced a dissertation that turned out very nicely. I'm sure she hated me for most of the process too.

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It's 10/10/10, so I thought I would schedule this post to be published as 10:10 a.m.

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