Academic Productivity, Part 2

[continuing from yesterday’s post, we’re back with a few more tips …]

Figure out how you work. One of us, for instance, writes best in the morning and maintains a 9-5 approach (or at the most productive worked 6-6 with lunch at the desk) but isn’t much good by late afternoon, which is therefore when to schedule student meetings, grade papers, course prep, and the other stuff that doesn’t require deep thought. Once you know when you work best, protect it vigilantly from all intruders. Others can work in coffee shops, burn the midnight oil, etc. If what you are doing isn’t working, audit your time, see where you are losing opportunity, and try something new. And may we recommend firm rules regarding checking and responding to email and other social media. Remember, many people get no more than 2 weeks vacation a year and don’t get paid for time off. The most straightforward answer to how we have been so productive is that we each maintained about a 50-60 hour work week (not counting evening viewing or any non work-relevant computer use) and took very few hours or days off in the first decade of our careers.

Related to this, procrastinate by doing other work. There are times when your head’s just not into what you’re doing. But if you’re struggling with writing, read, assemble your bibliography or something wholly mechanical like that, compile data, watch and take notes on something, read the trade press, etc.

Be strategic about what you choose to write and where you send it. As you start a project, think about what journal or press you could see it ending up at, and make sure there’s more than just one option there, so it doesn’t get caught in publication limbo. Think carefully about the fit of your article to the journal; many rejections come simply from being a poor match, but this can set publication of your work back by 6 months to a year. Double or triple up by making your big conference presentation this year feed into and inform that article you’re working on, which in turn forms the basis of a chapter for a book. When people ask if you’ll contribute to a special issue or a book they’re editing, think about whether this will help your research profile, or whether it’s time away from it (the latter may well be worth doing, to be clear: but you should go into it knowing that’s what it is).

Always meet your deadlines. On one hand, the more that you miss, the more that you’re required to be late with other things. On the other hand, meeting deadlines gives you capital with presses and journals. Precisely because so many academics are late, when you meet your deadlines, you win editors’ love and respect, which in turn  may lead to them treating your work with more care, trying harder to find reviewers who will be as serious about a deadline as are you, and siding in your favor if you’re in a grey area.

We’re probably writing to an undercurrent of anxiety we witness that holds up R1 jobs as the highest pursuit. This often happens because graduate training only takes place in R1 institutions. R1 jobs aren’t right for everyone and people in R1 jobs aren’t the smartest or best around, even if your advisor suggests that’s the case. R1 jobs are a good fit for people who feel that half of their job performance should be based on their scholarly productivity. But real success is a curious thing. Although we rarely talk about it, if we want to be honest, we’re not curing cancer here. At the end of the day, having a shelf of authored books is only one form of gratification, and not one that keeps you all that warm at night. Though our universities may never acknowledge it, the most significant work most all of us will do is in the classroom, by touching lives and opening up new ways of thinking and understanding the world. Think on these things and make your peace with them in thinking about the version of this career and level of productivity that’s right for you.

Questions? We’d be happy to field them. Or your own suggestions? Please share.


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4 Responses to “ Academic Productivity, Part 2 ”

  1. Nina Huntemann on July 20, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Great start to this new series! I’m looking forward to future posts.

    I was also pleased to read the last paragraph about graduate training’s focus on R1 jobs. I am not at an R1 and thus I have a heavier teaching load (3/2), greater service expectations, but less pressure to publish. I am grateful that my not-R1 institution doesn’t pretend to be an R1 by expecting more teaching and service as well as R1-level publishing. I’ve had many conversations lately with junior scholars who are under R1 pressure but with fewer resources, no pre-tenure sabbaticals, etc.

    When I was on the job market in 2002, positions were far more abundant than these past few years, so I say the following with that critical caveat. I purposefully did not apply for R1 jobs because what I knew about R1 expectations did not appeal to me. I didn’t think an R1 job would give me the life I wanted. I also had a fairly small map of places I was willing to call home, which was a very important part of my vision of work/life happiness. Had I applied for R1 jobs, for all I know I may not have even been considered. I was ABD and games studies was still fairly marginal. That I landed in Boston (a city I love) at an institution that supports my idea of a fulfilling academic career and truly values teaching (my favorite part of what we do) is a blessing everyday, even on days when I may pine for more research resources and fewer students.

    So, for what it is worth, I would encourage Antenna readers to think deeply, as Jonathan and Amanda suggest, about what kind of academic life you want. There are many versions of this profession, all of which can be equally satisfying and successful.

    • Jonathan Gray on July 20, 2011 at 9:58 AM

      Well said, Nina. I’d slightly revise for the contemporary “take what you can get” market by adding that it’s not just about thinking purposefully about what kind of life one wants, but being open to a variety of options. So many folk get it drilled deep into their skulls that they need to be at an R1 to count as scholars, and for the world to acknowledge them, that they don’t stop to think that life may be better elsewhere.

      That said, I’d also note that productivity is the battering ram into most jobs, not just the R1 ones, and if expecting nothing but an R1 gig is one problem, another is people who decide early that they don’t want to be at an R1, and think that this means they don’t need to publish. This market doesn’t reward that.

      • Jonathan Gray on July 22, 2011 at 11:14 AM

        to add onto my own point here, the “take what you can get” market can be a blessing. I say this as someone whose father had a job that moved my family around the world every two to three years growing up. I never had a say in where I lived, and would never have chosen some of those places beforehand. But I often loved those places with a passion, and miss some of them dearly. Similarly, I have numerous friends in academia who accepted a job somewhere begrudgingly, yet who later came to adore the job, the place, or both. This needn’t obviate planning about where one would like to be, but an openness to being surprised by a different place, change of pace, etc. is probably integral to continued sanity in our line of work.

    • Jason Mittell on July 21, 2011 at 11:02 AM

      Fully agree with Nina point that you should think about the type of academic career that will be most rewarding to you concerning the genre of school, location, and disciplinary arrangements (among others) – and even in a “take what you can get” market, you can make choices in your first job that will hopefully lead to a more appropriate 2nd (or 3rd) years down the road. For people interested in the possibilities & pleasures (and limitations) of a liberal arts college job, I wrote a post a few years back that a number people have said has been helpful to them.