Writing the mind into submission

Because I spend a fair chunk of my time teaching during the week, I always have difficulty switching my head space to writing when I need to. This past 2 weeks have been no different in that sense. But I think sometimes the thing to do is to grit one’s teeth and simply write and write and write until the restless mind is corralled into submission and actually bends itself to the task. Many paragraphs of unusable prose are produced in this fashion and when one is short of precious research time it can be frustrating but until someone shows me a better way that is all I can do.

Here’s the thing, though, I have had recourse recentlyto ask myself what it is that I enjoy most in my work. Teaching has many rewards not least of which is the learning that teachers pick up from their students. I daresay because I teach in new media, I learn more about what is current in my area from my students than perhaps some others do. But research, what do I enjoy about research? Not the writing and compiling of funding applications. That is in fact the most tedious and soul-sapping part of research. I think of it as a dark art and there is, indeed, art to the task of funding applications. If the past 2.5 years have taught me nothing else, it is this. However, in all the frenzy inspired by the need for funding in which not only do you need to deal with budgets and head-counts (if one were happy dealing with one would not have gone into academia I ask) you also find yourself constantly questioned on the value of your work.

Tell us what you have done, tell us what you published, tell us who has noted your work, tell us how you see your career projections, tell us what results your work will bring, how it will be used and who will benefit. Tell us, tell us, tell us…Why? Because accountability is the criteria by which research is assessed these days. Admittedly, funding comes from the government and as such is a use of tax dollars. Governments need to show they are investing these dollars wisely and RESULTS are the best demonstration of that wisdom. But what happened to the notion of social good? What if I said that my research would add to the sum total of human knowledge? Would that suffice? No! And in today’s research environment, such phrases makes one sound overly idealistic and vague.

So, long answer to short question — what I enjoy and value most in my work is the task of reading, analysing, thinking and writing. Sometimes in the company of others, often in solitude. It also happens to be, after multiple careers and jobs in different areas, where I think I will make my best contributions as a person. Not in the near future, I’m afraid but eventually, whenever that may be.

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