a ‘good academic day’

What is a good academic day? What happens to make you go home/leave the office and say to your partner or cat/dog/budgie – I had such a good day today.

I’ve come to the rather obvious conclusion that my good academic day is one where I actually get to do “proper scholarship”.

My good day is one where

  •  my co-researchers in Tate school and teachers team and I have an extended, and challenging conversation 
  • doctoral researchers tell me about their discovery of a really exciting new angle on their work
  • a class discussion goes somewhere, participants really push at ideas in depth
  • some sustained reading leads to a fresh perspective, a new set of intellectual resources
  • some of my own writing genuinely excites me because it is creative, it plays with ideas in different ways
  •  I experience the doing-observing-feeling-thinking that is immersive ethnography.

All of these good days have something in common – a sustained flowing, thinking and writing/talking over time … which also pushes me somewhere I haven’t been before. As an educator, I would of course call this learning, learning at the edge of what I already know.

2015-07-25 12.12.13.jpg

over-excited live ethnographic play

Scholarly thinking/writing/talking always involves some of what I already ‘know’, either from prior experience, or from reading, or both. But the something already known can be put together in a new way and/or with something new/different/unexpected. As in …I didn’t start out to end up here, but here I am and… and it is good.

Stitching the old and new together can be a lively, energetic process, exciting and active, engaging body, emotions and mind. Playful. Experimental.

The spoken/unspoken “oh and what about… yes but this instead…” is often also interspersed with periods of deep reflection, and moments of intense not-knowing. These are the instances/instants when what you think you think tangibly shifts.

At such times, notions of impact, evidence, audit and citation scores are completely irrelevant. Nowhere. Not a consideration, not a momentary thought.

For me, these are the scholarly moments to be treasured. These are the good academic days to be fought for in between the everyday of meetings, feedback, marking, reviewing, filing, noting and emailing. Perhaps their very scarcity makes them more precious.

They are certainly what keeps me going.

But, how does this compare to my colleagues I wonder. What’s a ‘good academic day’ for others, a good academic day for you?



About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic day, academic life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to a ‘good academic day’

  1. Moira says:

    Yes to all this Pat.
    And I’d add – engagement with fellow travellers who are curious, inquiring, and both detached from, yet aware of, their own thinking/feeling schticks and so able to open up space for deep thinking/feeling/doing etc.
    Some academic conversations sparkle with this. Others deaden and close down any excitement about the process of discovery.


  2. Pat – I find a PhD is such an isolated endeavour – I cannot over-emphasise how valuable I find your posts. Today I am heartened by the phrase “moments of intense not-knowing”, and love “learning at the edge of what I already know”.


  3. Audrey says:

    My ‘good day’ is similar – although I would add ‘get stuff done’ to that list too, nothing satisfies me more than knowing I have achieved more than attending meetings where I am making up numbers rather than deeply engaged. I am also loose on what I term ‘scholarship’, unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t define ‘important stuff’ as only research-related. My time in class or preparing materials for class also engages me in ways that pushes my known to the edge sometimes. Also, I am fortunate that at the moment (after the post holiday lull of January) most days are ‘good days’!


  4. Pingback: #academicgoals – Mamalegato's Marathon

  5. Pingback: What’s a good academic day for you? – premature geographers

  6. rachmcmc says:

    Hi Pat, I really enjoyed this post. I wrote a blog post in reply from a PhD perspective which you might be interested in: https://prematuregeographers.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/whats-a-good-academic-day-for-you/

    Thanks for a great blog,


  7. MandyHavert says:

    Hi, Pat. This is a great reflection for an academic. I wonder, do you or any of your commenters, visualize what a ‘good academic day’ is as a means of setting a baseline for the reflection, or is the process more conditional to the day itself?


  8. Grace says:

    Yes. This resonates with me so much. As a Ph.D. student in the dissertation stages, I find that my good days are when I actually write something on my dissertation. Nothing really big, writing a paragraph or section or even just editing an already existing text. Whenever I have 2-3 day runs of not doing any of these, I am just miserable. The post got me reflecting on how I can work towards doing at least some writing no matter how small each day. Thanks


  9. Pingback: Weekly Round Up |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s