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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why We Hate Research

I love research, but the larger question is why "we" in general don't like it.

(1) Isolation. Human beings need both relatedness and autonomy. Research in the Humanities gives you a lot of autonomy, so if you like that, you will like research. On the other hand, you research is usually about things that nobody else in your family or even department really understand. Those who do understand your research are your implicit competitors. You might get along with them fine, but you only see them at conferences. You can publish an article and have nobody, every, say a word to you about the article afterwards. This is a lot of work for one line on your cv.

(2) Fucked-up reward structure. Research brings the ultimate academic reward, tenure. This only happens once in your career, though. The rewards are few and far between, and come long after the work was done. You can also get some small raises for doing research, but these are never in proportion to the effort put in. If you do very, very good work over many years, you might get a job where the financial rewards are substantial, but this hasn't happened for me yet.

(3) Writing itself is hard for most people. They would rather do almost anything else than face the blank page.

(4) Research requires time management skills that most people don't have, whether when dealing with large blocks of unstructured time or trying to write in the gaps of the days.

(5) Society thinks research is worthless unless it cures cancer or makes us more wealthy.

Despite all of these things, I love research. I look for ways to reduce my isolation. I have been around long enough to reap a few rewards. I like the actual process of writing. I have good time management. Finally, I don't care what "society" thinks. My society thinks the most valuable things are waging war, hitting balls with sticks, and accumulating worthless, schlocky decorations, among other things.


Clarissa said...

For me, the main reward of research is neither tenure nor salary increases. It's respect. The university administrators, students and colleagues treat me with a lot of respect every time I announce that I've had something accepted for publication.

The main drawback of research is, paradoxically, disrespect. If you work long and hard on an article and then it gets rejected in a disrespectful manner, it's painful. Criticism is good as long as it's constructive. No matter how much of a genius one is, there are always new things to learn. Disrespectful rejections, however, are the underside of submitting articles.

Andrew Shields said...

I like that "I don't care what 'society' thinks." It reminds me of C. Dale Young's frequent response to ideas about how to make poetry more popular, something along the lines of "why would you want to do that?"

sptc said...

Well, I find it really illuminating to read this blog because it makes me realize my reactions are - twisted or something. Maybe just minority. ;-)

I don't have any of these problems with research (or the ego one). I'd say it's its own reward and its disadvantages are those of academia generally. I don't even find it isolating unless I'm in a place which is itself isolating - in which case I find everything isolating.

sptc said...

But, I am the one who feels guilty about research, and at present likes it best when it's for class - not because teaching is more fun (although it is very social, which fits your list), or because there's less riding on it, but because that makes it a justifiable guilty pleasure.

sptc said...

In my first job, at a supposedly (i.e. declaredly, although not really) anti research place, I probably wrote the most. That was partly because I knew the anti research cant was bunk, especially just coming off of graduate school -- but also because it was an act of rebellion and also a way to engage with reality and think of the broader world.

Doing it for respect doesn't do it for me, although it gets you that. In terms of external rewards I'd rather think of doing it for fame, for the interest of being in the midst of a fascinating information flow and production line, if you will, of data and interpretation.

Writing that I see how much better it feels than thinking of it as a work obligation or guilty pleasure, and I see now that I see it in my own case as a weak combination of both. That, again, is illuminating.