On Allowing Oneself Research Time

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.

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8 Responses to On Allowing Oneself Research Time

  1. Hattie says:

    Fascinating. You still have time to do just about anything you want, though.

  2. It’s funny to read this today. I’ve just started a temporary lectureship after being in the heritage industry for ages. Any research I did there had to be outside working hours, and was very very targeted–the only way I was getting out of there, nice post though it was, was publication. Having achieved this, I now find myself in a job where research is actually part of the remit, and there are not so many fixed working hours. I am feeling weirdly guilty about reading when I should be ‘at work’, even though if I’m reading I am in some sense working.

    All of this makes me say: the publish imperative is very strong on all sides. Does it have to be gendered? I think that most people in ambitious universities are under this pressure, women or otherwise. This is not to say that your case doesn’t sound rather weighted, I admit.

  3. Z says:

    Gracias Hattie, and welcome, Jonathan!

    Re publishing — well, I love to write and I’m not one of those who has a problem with the publish imperative, so this is why it is all so ironic. This is why I have taken as much abuse as I have about research.

    So my complaint is perhaps the opposite of yours, since it’s the imperative to teach lower level courses, lead conversation hours, advise student clubs, and so on which dogs me, not the imperative to publish.

    *

    Something this post doesn’t get into, for instance, is my incredibly messy guilt complex about research and writing. By being career oriented, I resemble my aunt Valeska which is wicked. By being intellectually oriented, I hurt the self images of my mother and also of the therapist I mis-chose to help me deal with abuse from her. Since that therapy, which required me to situate myself psychically in the childhood situations I remember and relive them, I also have terrible flashbacks.

    When I read or write now, I again hear my parents yelling at me about the selfishness of it, my mother screaming in pain from her bed about how I am not paying enough attention to her at this moment, and so on. I have to push through this to get anything done.

    It is excruciating because I can also hear my father going on about how one must do this, or die, and one must not publish one’s own views, because they will be unpublishable and one will lose one’s job and die, and how I am a girl and will just want to teach anyway, and how my good teaching record is a sign that I will fail at everything else, and on, and on.

    YES, that’s all ABUSE, but then gender oppression is abuse even when it’s accomplished in a more refined manner.

    *

    I had come to this blog just now, without realizing your comment was here, because I had a thought: the therapist did not believe research was necessary or real, just as my mother had not believed my father’s was. To defend myself against the therapist, I would go on about how it wasn’t some figment of my imagination that research was necessary, it was a job requirement for me, I had to do it or lose my position.

    These were the same things my father had explained to my mother as she was melting down about him working on his work (he was quite good about it, was only absent from home 8-5, M-F, and that included a commute, and didn’t work evenings/weekends, but she wanted him home more and there were reasons for this, we should have had an au pair or a staff or a feminist coop going on at home, this would have been better).

    My father lost his taste for work partly because he had had to defend it to my mother in such drastic terms. I traumatized myself by repeating these arguments to the therapist.

    The voices I hear saying all these negative and scary things to myself when I work are in that sense my own … perhaps realizing this will help me control them (if they’re just me talking, I can decide to say something else).
    🙂

  4. Z says:

    I’ll add here — the self I am for research and writing, isn’t the self I get to show in the professor jobs I’ve had, which have all had a strong lower division foreign language teaching component. I have always gotten a lot of criticism for having degrees from the University of California, which is heavily intellectual and both expects and allows this from students of all genders; I did not realize this was a problem until I began working as a professor in the jobs I have been able to get.

    In senior and graduate courses one can be analytical, as I am. Yet I have always been shocked to discover how much gender related abuse one is expected to take at so many schools if one is a woman teaching foreign languages, how much racially related abuse one must manage if that language is Spanish, and how important it is to English departments to have mid level literature students emoting with novels as opposed to analyzing texts.

    Since I’ve been through the tenure process a couple of times, and really had to have good teaching evaluations at the kinds of places I’ve been, I’ve had to tie myself in knots most parts of most days to seem to be the kind of “teacher” required. That has made me fear the consequences I may face for being the person I am and also need to be to conduct research and writing. So, these two comments may start explaining the gendered and I suppose, also racial nature of these problems.

  5. Hattie says:

    This is the curse of knowing. Right now if I had to be teaching and dealing with the banalities of the classroom, I’d probably drink myself to death.

  6. Z says:

    Well, the instructors are all heavily drugged with one thing and another, and I the first time I was ever drunk, was when I was already a professor; yes, it was for that reason. And freshmen really have gotten worse since the administration decided they were customers.

    *

    Jonathan … the other thing is, of course, what I called Reeducation on my other blog, but which isn’t a topic of posts here (and I think it’s going to be language camp in my novel, or that and a series of other things). That, briefly, had to do with instilling guilt over being an intellectual and doubt over one’s perceptions. I remember being told that if it was work for one, then one was obsessive, and so on and so forth.

    And really, I think my first job was so traumatic that I just shouldn’t have embarked on Reeducation so soon after I finally got a decent one. Reeducation disabled me for years, so that I lost that second job because I couldn’t work; there was no good or useful reason for that. And this only added to my guilt about working (from Reeducation and my mother) and fear of not (from my father) and also fear of doing my own work (from my father), so as you can see, I was quite terrified by them as a younger person and was not wise to look so closely into the abyss, bring them so to the fore, as Reeducation required.

    Now, though, I’m going to write a novel, and I don’t know that this would have happened otherwise, and so.

  7. Wow, I seem to have stepped into deeper waters than I had realised, sorry if I caused offence. Balancing it all is very tricky, because even if one is given quotas of teaching vs research, as you say, research is both reading and writing and only one is recorded by those who pay you though the other is necessary for it to happen. And then there’s all the stuff that is neither teaching nor research, or is para-teaching, or worst, because necessary (and rewarding) but unpaid, ‘community-building’. And most often there are no quotas and no way to judge if we’re doing it right.

    I guess we all find a way through, but I hope the voices leave you alone a bit more as you do so.

  8. Z says:

    Reading back, I can’t believe how well I managed to summarize those neuroses, and of course how neurotic they sound … I guess there really was an odd accumulation of negative factors, hm! Now I’ve said all that and started the novel, and it’s quite amazing how much more situated I am. In “Reeducation” one was supposed to relinquish control of one’s life and I really think I modified psychic structures at some deep level, it was damaging. But I always did say I would take them back.😉

    No, you didn’t offend. On balancing at the more mundane level, which as you say is tricky enough, at this job I’ve found the service and community building the most onerous. This is a place where it’s really necessary, and really not done, and really not given credit for, and it means organization and change which are not appreciated … and yet, if we don’t do it, we don’t have the program, so we’re all conflicted about it, and frustrated. In other places I’ve worked, it was part of what it was assumed the group would do, and so the group would do it in as efficient a way as possible and then sit back pleased at the results. Here, it’s a source of strife, in part because of all the passive aggression and in part because so much, by so many, is perceived to be, and treated, as though it were about power and not about freedom or ease.

    My father alleged not to believe in preparing for teaching, I do; still it’s important to remember that students deserve your talent, but (unless they’re really advanced) don’t care about your brilliance, so you should only work to a certain level. On research/reading, while it’s true that that time isn’t countable/doesn’t count, I have noticed that in fact evaluation committees do take it into account.

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