Friday, July 03, 2009

And the Living Is Easy

Jonathan Mayhew has one of the healthiest academic attitudes I know of. In a recent post he made a point of provoking those who think professors don't work hard enough:

I got this idea while mowing the lawn this morning. I say this because of the idea that a lot of hostility to professors comes from the [fact that] we can mow our lawns any day of the week. I.e.: we don't do enough work.

This offers me a great opportunity to propose that you all relax this summer. Enjoy the life of the mind. Allowing for an enjoyable but altogether intellectual summer is one of the main reasons for my sixteen week program. I use a not-quite-arbitrary calender to set an annual rhythm and here's how I imagine my life if I ever return to a proper research position.

Starting in late January or early February I commit myself to eight weeks of stuctured work, with well-defined writing and teaching goals. I then take a week off for Easter. I return to do another eight weeks of structured work, and then there's the summer. Starting in mid-August, I get back to work for eight weeks, take a week off for the fall break, and then work another eight intense weeks until Christmas.

There are 52 weeks in a year. 32 of them, then, are spent immersed in "intense" periods of work. Much of the intensity comes from devoting a significant amount of time to research and writing while meeting my teaching obligations. Now, I only have about 6 weeks of vacation. So there are (do the math) 14 weeks to do "unstructured" work, generally free of teaching responsibilities (except exams). Some of that is spent at conferences. The rest is spent satisfying my curiosity and playing around with inchoate ideas. I don't worry too much about what I'm getting done or when I'm working during this time; there are those 32 weeks of actually "performing" to do that.

This image appeals to me. But it is realistic only if one has a great deal of discipline. Academia is not an easy business, but, given the right attidude, it offers the possibility of a pretty good way of life. Keep in mind that the last thing a scholar and teacher should submit to is so-called "soul-destroying labour". Don't let them guilt you into a "work ethic" that will fry your brain and make you, ultimately, less knowledgeable about your area of expertise. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind in good working order, whatever you need to do to retain the knowledge that you represent on your campus.

Teach your classes and publish your papers and let them howl about how you get your ideas while walking around in your garden in floral-patterned shorts with a cocktail in your hand. It's none of their business. You know what your mind needs to stay in shape.

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