On Allowing Oneself Research Time. I know it is Saturday, but my questions on academia are asked on Mondays. Therefore it is Monday in the bright pages of this weblog. The question: did you undertake dissertation research? I did not, as I was told not to — it would have taken time. My instructions were to put all personal interests, intuitions and doubts aside so as to simply write something that was internally consistent, and file it as soon as possible.
Not undertaking dissertation research, and also not thinking about the career implications the topic I chose might have, made me start losing interest in my topic during the period in which I wrote. Every minute spent doing research is a minute not spent writing, said my dissertation director; and every original conclusion is pointless, as it will be unpublishable, the Emeritus Professor had said again and again. “You will be able to write what you really want to write later,” it was said, and I listened, but the time was now.
This contributed to my becoming the interesting, yet underdeveloped person I am today. As I lost interest in the project I was writing up more or less as a school report (and I lost interest in it for this reason, in addition to the other reasons we discussed long ago), I turned my intellectual curiosities elsewhere. One result of this was not being able to discuss the official project with enthusiasm or engagement. Another was having a broad set of unrelated interests which were not fully enough developed.
That is why I was perceived to be a generalist. It is why I have always been hired and used as one, and why I am increasingly more of one. It is also why people do not understand me, or become angry with me for not having the attitude they expect. I have the personality of a specialist and I bring this to generalist projects and situations.
This is different from a distinction we made on my oldest blog, years ago, between academics and intellectuals (one can be both, but also either, and many academics are not both). I may have broad knowledge, and be an intellectual before I am an academic, but I am still not a generalist.
Even now, I give senior seminars which could each be a brilliant book. Yet time spent finishing the research that would be necessary to actually write these books is time wasted, since it is time spent not writing; and time spent drawing conclusions as interesting as those we draw in my senior seminars is time wasted, as these conclusions would be unpublishable.
And even now, I am still discovering why it is so hard for me to do academic writing. Everyone says about how important it is to start before you consider yourself ready, but this never applies to me because I am always writing and in particular, always starting.
But I never, ever allow myself to do enough research and have not habitually done scholarly research since before my dissertation. It was at that point that I was pushed off the path and the advice given me so insistently was meant for the person people wanted to see in me, not the person I was.
I still need research time that is not expected to be writing time, and much of the anxiety and I feel about academic work involves the perception that time I spend conducting research prior to writing is illegitimate. And because the importance of writing was so much greater than that of research, I became the author of a great many letters in different genres, websites, stories, comic strips, and three unfinished novels now circulating in samidzat. I desire research but I do it furtively, hurriedly, poorly; I have even been known to go out of town to do it so that I will not be discovered. All of my projects are tantalizing.
There are reasons why research was considered illegitimate for me and these have to do with gender, to wit:
a) women are not natural researchers or writers, and they must be goaded;
b) academic work by women will not actually be read or considered valid, so they should just write anything to keep the total productivity quotient up;
c) given that (b) is true, time spent by women conducting research is time they are spending on themselves when they should be spending time on others.