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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Some Habits

Here a few habits that I think are desirable to have. If you have a few of these at least you might have a better chance of success.

1) Intellectual curiosity. Usually someone will read beyond what they have to. Imagine a student in a graduate program who only reads assigned readings and lists. Contrast that with a student who has her own lists, an intellectual agenda that goes beyond what the professors are telling her how to read.

2) Intrinsic motivation. Imagine a person doing scholarship in order to earn tenure or a degree. They are attempting to come up to the institutional standard. That is fine, but what if you thought of the institutional standard as a bare minimum, and decided to go far beyond that?

3) Serious outside interests. So take the case of a psychologist with a serious interest in classical music, for example.

4) As a corollary, not everything will be instrumental. The interest in music for the physicist may or may not make him a better physicist. Who cares? If you make only instrumental calculations then you might miss out on something later on. For example, I am improving my Italian, but the reason why is not evident to me yet. There may be a reason but it is one I cannot calculate.

5) There is a kind of ownership of one's own field. I don't mean a proprietary, "get-off-my-lawn-kids attitude," though some people have that too, but rather a sense that one should know what one is talking about. Just having a base-line competence and sense of ownership will allow you to be part of the conservation in a field very quickly.

6) Not letting minor projects get in the way of major ones. So you will find people who have interviews, translations, and other "bird-dropping" publications in place of refereed articles and book chapters.

7) There is an idiosyncratic or paradoxical cast of mind that doesn't accept the conventional wisdom, or views it simply as a starting point that may or may not be correct. A creative scholar will think against the grain.

8) At least in my field, you have to have prose. In other words, by writing well you automatically have huge advantage over the average person.


Anonymous said...

This is a good post that really speaks to the question of how to do the job.

I get terribly frustrated with all the repetition of advice on "protecting time," "avoiding protectionism," and "limiting service" because it is so superficial. The interest in work that this post allows for, gets far closer to the point for several different kinds of reasons.

Anonymous said...

...although I will say that although I *thought* this was what an academic would be up to, I quickly learned that it was arrogant to think one deserved to do these things, selfish not to sacrifice most of it for the sake of other kinds of work, and dangerous not to listen to these counterintuitive instructions.

I.E.: I learned that you would *fail* not "succeed" by doing these things (and again, I wouldn't have said they were things you did "to succeed," I would have said they were the things everyone did whether they "succeeded" or not [which would be a different question]).

This is the trauma I have not gotten over. It is also what people quit / retire early over -- is what I wanted to quit over when I was young enough to do that, although I am not willing to quit now.

Jonathan said...

It is not at all arrogant. You do deserve these things. It is a perverse profession that thinks it selfish to conform to its own stated values.

Anonymous said...

Or conflicted institutions. At my current one, it used to be that you could come up for tenure as an M.A., and be promoted to assistant professor. So everything was about being local and gaining seniority. It was a lot cheaper and easier, staff everything with these M.A.s. They can't do this any more and they are very angry at us for having come in with the credentials they have, but want us to work in bad instructor-like conditions, yet at the same time want R1 research, yet do not all know how to recognize this. So it's: why don't you do more, but we hate you for what you do do, and: why do we have to have you, we hate you and we hate your field, but please stay. Now that I think of it it is literally like dealing with someone with BPD.

I, meanwhile, love the field (although I love other things too, don't think it is the only interesting thing) but it is as though I had never been allowed to say so: you have to say yes I understand there are no jobs, yes I understand the university is problematic as an institution and that Hispanism is as a discipline, yes, I know -- and it does not seem to be allowed to say "I am interested in this" (you are also a traitor if you are interested in anything else, so it comes down to, you are not supposed to have interests in anything, just be aware of problems). Perhaps this set of paradoxes is an example of what you call "academic negativity."

Leslie B. said...

It's also: those habits are allowed to men, not women -- women who believe they have a right to them, do not fare well (as in, only a small percentage of such women survive, except in more privileged atmospheres). They're the specific province of men, their entitlement.

Leslie B. said...

And, here is my answer to all the exhortations about not being a perfectionist:

"Art is a virtue of the practical intellect, and the practice of any virtue demands a certain asceticism and a very definite leaving-behind of the niggardly part of the ego. The writer has to judge himself with a stranger's eye and a stranger's severity. The prophet in him has to see the freak."

Flannery O'Connor. The Nature and Aim of Fiction