this academic life – no New Year resolutions, but definitely some reflections and a plan

I don’t have a lot of time for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t spend my time vowing that this will be the year I’ll go back to the gym/stop buying new shoes/finish reading Zizek. At this time of year, I do however spend quite a bit of time on planning. And that’s diary-in-hand type planning. I always take time out at the start of the New Year to think about:

(1) the kinds of academic opportunities that are available and how I can organize myself to take advantage of them. This means looking at conferences and dates, selecting which ones I want to go to and scheduling in the writing of abstracts and papers. Unfortunately this also means thinking about how to get funding and this usually leads me to think about what research bids I’m going to have to make.

(2) the things I’m already obligated to do. This inevitably equates to a revisit to the list of promises I’ve made to do co-writing, and to contribute to special issues and edited collections. This is also the time to sort out this year’s publications from research projects; for me this usually means coordinating papers with conferences, and then generating a list to send around to research team members. Back to the calendar to see if all of the activities can be realistically fitted in.

(3) the writing and conferencing from this year and the balance of these activities. I get a chnace to consider whether there are any changes I want to make, or if there are things are coming up that might affect the way I think about this year.

At the end of reflecting on these three things I have a year’s calendar with times blocked out for major bits of writing, conferences and research field-work. When other stuff comes up during the year, it has to be fitted in around this pre-existing schedule, or declined. Doing all this means I feel organized, in control and not overwhelmed. Given academic workloads, it is pretty important to at least start the year with the warm glow of being on top of what is to come.

And as a result of doing this exercise, this year I’ve made a decision – it might even look a bit like a resolution. The difference is that this one is not an idealistic wild hope (go to the gym/stop buying new shoes or finish reading Zizek), but is rather more strategic – and more achievable.

I have decided that I will no longer write shed-loads of journal articles. Yes that’s right. This year it’s down with the peer reviewed paper. Rather, I’ll concentrate on writing books and blogging. There’ll be the odd chapter and paper of course, but in the main I want to focus on the things where I can be more helpful, creative and where I get more enjoyment. And as it turns out, this might be a canny thing to do too.

I was heartened to read, earlier this year, two blog posts by LSE’s Patrick Dunleavy (now available as an eprint) where he argued that the academic book had been under great duress from publishing pricing policies, ‘physics envy’, and from the REF elevation of the journal article as the gold standard of academic social science. He suggested that, as digital books become more and more the norm, there are very good reasons for writing books:

1. Books foster cross disciplinary learning
2. Books maximize external impacts
3. Good books attract serious citations
4. Books have more of a long tail effect, that is their impact endures.

So that all suggests that a focus on writing books is probably not such a silly thing to do. Well OK, I confess I do still harbour a childhood desire to publish a lot of books, so that might just have been part of my thinking too. And of course this is a decision I can make from a position of relative academic privilege (see Daniel Nehring’s post on this ) – I’ve already got tenure, a Chair, no children at home and a partner who does the cooking. I know it’s not a decision everyone can afford to make. But I can make it, and I have.

However, I’m afraid it’s not all solved yet. I still haven’t worked out where and how to get more reading time in. When I was doing my PhD I set myself a target of a minimum of twelve articles and one book a week. And I did do that number, at least, and often more. But ever since then, I’ve struggled to do more than a couple of articles a week and a book or two a month, and it feels as if my writing suffers as a result. There’s no point resolving to simply find the time to read more. It just won’t happen. It’ll be like resolving to go back to the gym/stop buying new shoes/finish reading Zizek.

So there’s still thinking to do. My reflections haven’t yet led me to the point where I know how to get back to this level of engagement with the field. Maybe this time next year I’ll know what to do! No, that’s not a resolution….

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in calendar, collaboration, conference papers, New Year, planning, planning a paper and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to this academic life – no New Year resolutions, but definitely some reflections and a plan

  1. Great post. Thanks for your inspiring thoughts. Happy new year 2013 from The Netherlands Karem

    Sent from my iPod


  2. Wish I’d read this several years ago. I’m not sure I would have ever been as productive as you, but your organizational ideas would have definitely helped. I will continue to pass on your helpful ideas to my colleagues. Happy New Year Pat.


  3. Onk says:

    I am a PhD student and I am startled by the fact that you managed to read 12 papers and 1 book a week! Maybe this depends on the discipline but even if I do nothing but reading I cannot achieve that. Can you give some hints on reading techniques? Thanks a lot!


    • pat thomson says:

      Hi, you’ll find some posts about this on the page called writing the thesis. Look for the posts on scanning. There is also a set of posts on reading an academic book. The trick is to know what to read in detail and what to skim, ans mix them up so you’re not trying to do a big number of reading thoroughly all at the same time. Ill think about whether I can say any more too.


  4. Pingback: Ring out, wild bells – how to use my New Year’s resolutions to the best possible effect « The Victorian Librarian

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