It’s often helpful to stand back and have a think – a think about your scholarly work and your scholarly ‘self’. How do you sit in relation to the conversations in your field?
Sometimes of course you may be asked to think on this. But quite often, taking stock of where you are is something that can be helpful for you – it’s a useful reflective moment, a pause in the usual routine.
To help you to think about locating yourself and your work in your chosen field, you might like to try this little writing exercise…
Timing can be important in taking stock. Don’t do it when you’re frantic or if you’re feeling crappy about your work. It’s good to think about your place in the field and your contribution over summer. Think before you get too tied up in teaching and administration.
But there are also key career times when it is beneficial to engage in some stocktaking:
- when you finish your PhD and are thinking about publication
- as you are planning your next year’s work
- if you are thinking about applying for funding for a post doc or project funding
- in preparation for a conversation with a mentor
- before you fill in your performance plan for the year (you can make it meaningful for you).
A writing exercise – Where are you in relation to the conversations in your field?
Answer the following questions in as much detail as you can.
- What are the key conferences in your field? Do you attend them? Have you presented at them? Have you presented with leading figures in the field? What might you do to become more visible and active in these key sites of conversation?
- What are the key journals in your field? Do you read them regularly? Have you reviewed for them? Have you published in them? Have you talked to the Editor? How might you become more active in these journal community/ies?
- What are the key debates in your field? Where do you stand on them? What reading have you done in relation to them? Does your research address any of them? Which? Have you made this research public? Where and to whom? What might you do next in order to get more say in a key debate in the field?
- Are there any current hot topics in your field? Do you want to get into this discussion and if so what do you need to do? Or do you already have something to say – if so what, and where should this be spoken/published?
You might also think about the key partners and users of research in your field, who you are already connected with, and what you might do to make more, meaningful connections. What challenges and needs might your research help them to address?
It’s possible to do the above exercise in multiple ways.
You could set yourself a timed writing exercise using short time periods – say twenty minutes – for each of (1) – (4). This could be something you do in a ‘shut up and write’ session. You might want to begin with little mind maps for each of the questions, or you could use a bulleted list or a powerpoint to organise your thoughts. Or you could just write in one sitting, writing and thinking till the task is done. Or you might have a cumulative piece of writing which you do over a week or so. You choose what works for you.
You can turn this thinking/writing into a plan of some kind so you don’t lose it, and you can make it into a strategic action plan if its helpful to set yourself targets and deadlines. You can revisit your plan during the year as things change. But don’t make any subsequent form of organisation you choose into some kind of sacrosanct object – the point here is the thinking that you do to inform your actions, and the fact that you regularly take stock.
You might also like to have a discussion about what you’ve written with an academic friend or mentor. It’s always helpful to get another perspective on your field and on your work. Someone else may see potential in things that you don’t. Talking things aloud can also help you to see for yourself the next steps you want to take, and perhaps your longer term directions. As part of a discussion, you might also ask your colleague to talk about where they are in relation to the field, so that you can see how they assess a body of work, a field and their existing and potential contributions. Hearing other people do the same exercise that you’ve done can be very helpful.