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Monday, September 12, 2011

"Writing is fun and publishing is easy"

A lot of us have had the experience of wondering why something that comes relatively easy to us is seen, in the academic culture, as a form of torture. The blogger Profacero has startlingly excellent set of posts on this issue. She states seemingly counterintuitive axioms like "writing is fun and publishing is easy." Crazy, right? But I happens to agree with her.

Graduate school consists largely of training in research. Every course I took, except a single one in pedagogy, was designed to train me as a scholar. Even people who end up working in jobs where they don't do much research have had training to be scholars. The PhD remains a research degree. If, after completely such a degree, you still don't know how to do research, then something has gone wrong. Writing itself is easy. The only hard part is sitting down to do it regularly. Once that regular schedule is established, all it takes is working systematically to solve certain problems. There will be easier and harder days, as with anything else. Publishing is also very easy, since journal editors actually want to publish good articles. Once again, "easy" does not mean a total absence of rejection.

So what makes it hard? Part of it is the "volvo" culture denounced by Stanley Fish in this classic essay. We don't want to admit that it is fun because our claims of moral superiority are based on suffering. Of course, the working conditions of academia often crowd research out. Excessive teaching loads, lack of leaves and sabbaticals, an explosion of service and committee work, and sometimes an outright hostility toward (or envy of) research combine forces. The idea that research is hard provides the convenient excuse in such cases. Profacero also notes that the mantra about how hard it is serves a gate-keeping function.

I recommend you read all the posts in this on-going series. Since I have always taught at a an R1, I always feel like someone is going to answer, "sure, easy for YOU." So I'm glad someone else said it first.

7 comments:

profacero said...

I am told it is "elitist" and "privileged" to think writing is fun. I can't help thinking, that just means they didn't go to a good school.

I have another really sacrilegious post brewing and I am not sure how to formulate it.

matt said...

The stigma associated with writing and publishing is especially overwhelming in grad school. Really smart people I know turn up their noses at the various facets of "professionalization," including writing and publishing, and I just sit wonder to myself, "Then why did you go into this profession?"

Maybe in grad school the hostility comes from the immense pressure we constantly feel to "publish or perish" as many have said, and that pressure is heightened by the fact that most grad students haven't published and thus feel doomed to perish.

I can only speak for myself, but I have never attended an "upper tier" or "elite" college/university. All my degrees have come (or will come!) from solid schools, and so the need to publish has been stressed by my professors.

I think many people are especially antagonistic to writing and publishing when they have jumped head first into the higher education gambit and only later "discover" that getting a phd doesn't equal getting a tenure-track job and the sweet lifestyle that goes along with it.

profacero said...

P.S. It all started because of my awful reaction to someone who said you couldn't make tenure without a sabbatical first. That, on the theory that tenure = 5 articles, from dissertation and 2 new research, + book, based on dissertation. And a 2-2 load and one of the best libraries in the country.

My thought was: if on that load, with that little new research, and those resources, you can't make tenure without a sabbatical, you're either a lightweight or having life problems.

I don't even think that's mean, I think it's la verdad.

profacero said...

@matt - interesting set of circumstances.

Love the Fish article, didn't know it.

I am failing to come up with my next post so I'm saying it as a comment here: the other inspiration of it all was someone's reaction to my having said writing was fun, etc. The response was that it was politically incorrect in the current climate to say that. But really it was cloaked in what I think is envy of a polished ("privileged") graduate student.

I don't have time to write this out in a real post now but my other motivational trick is to avoid envy. And my pet peeve is, people with good situations calling upon me to support them in their envy of people in yet better situations. They'll be wrinkled soon and die young, mark my words.

Clarissa said...

" And my pet peeve is, people with good situations calling upon me to support them in their envy of people in yet better situations. They'll be wrinkled soon and die young, mark my words."

-I really love this comment, too. :-) Maybe you should put it in a separate post.

profacero said...

I am trying to figure out how to say that. The thing is that the people who find my ideas on luxe, calme, et volupté offensive are some of my most faithful readers and supporters, yet they consider me vicious now that I have renounced suffering. Saying it on the blog seems mean. I have children and I have learned that anger also means love.

However since this post links to Anti-Advice to New Faculty I do have a further insight on that: the ideas that your dissertation isn't important except insofar that it is done, and yet at the same time, it has to be your first book, are mutually contradictory.

If, furthermore, you write your dissertation without hope of necessarily getting a job, doing it as just something that must be merely done is defeating. So, I would recommend that people do actually decide to care about their dissertations. This doesn't mean you can't also be thinking ahead to the next project and so on.

I've always been told I should write a freakin' advice book and I would have by now, I suppose, if I thought I had any authority left to do it with !!! But, the extension of my further advice to new faculty would be that you have to do a personality split. The only advice that exists on how to be new faculty is on how to be new faculty at an R1, which is advice nobody needs, in my opinion, if they studied at anything like a decent R1 ... either they'll have been told, or they'll have picked it up,

What is needed is advice on how to make that transition, to SLAC and regional, to which my generation has been only perhaps mis designated due to having broad interests. The problem is: what they want in SLAC and regional land, what you need to survive there, is what will kill you for R1. The cognitive dissonance is extreme some days and it bears discussion.

This is what the advisors do not know how to admit and how could they: it is another land. You H.A.V.E. to split, the way people in smaller fields like Classics split.

anarchopragmatisme said...

Fun, I agree. Easy, it depends of who.