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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers March 2007

vol. 3, no. 3

So, the topic of dirty dishes came up recently among a group of individuals who each live alone. It seemed everyone had a problem with allowing dishes to stack up. One dirty dish in the sink would somehow become ten.

Someone, let’s call her Sarah, said, “Yeah, I’m terrible. Only when the sink is completely full do I actually do the dishes.” Suddenly, it was a competition. Sandra leapt in, “That’s nothing, I don’t do the dishes until there is no space left on the sink or the counter.” Sally shook her head, “Please, I don’t do them until I have used all my mugs as cereal bowls and there isn’t a clean dish to be had in the entire house.” Then Susan spoke up. “Actually, I don’t do them. I just put them in those huge plastic garbage bags and tie them up tight so they don’t smell. I have four garbage bags in my kitchen right now.”

There was a little silence after this confession as everyone processed this information. Sarah wondered whether Susan just kept on buying new dishes. Sandra opened her mouth and then closed it. Sally restarted the conversation by mentioning a covered pot of pesto she had once left on the counter for a week. But their hearts weren’t in it anymore. They were all picturing those bags. And then, slowly, the secret bags in their own lives. The ones they didn’t talk about—the unclean habit, the unfinished project, the neatly boxed failure.

Then Sally said, “You know, it only takes three minutes. To wash the dishes. I’ve timed it.” And there was another silence as they all processed that information. Then they all nodded. Yeah, that was about right.

As another friend observed later, sometimes you become your own experiment. Some detached part of yourself is watching yourself and wondering, “How far will I go? How bad will it get? How creative can I be, how much energy can I put into not doing this?”

If you find yourself in that place, remind yourself of three things. Antidepressant drugs exist for a reason. Some self-knowledge isn’t worth having. And your friends can save you from yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Productivity Research

Most scholars are unaware that scholars’ struggles are the subject of study. Most never read the research on who scholars are, what they do, and why they succeed. But this research can help us to make better choices as scholars and to feel better about those choices.

One finding about scholarly productivity is that collaborative academics are more productive academics. That is, authoring articles with others is a way to increase the number of articles you publish. Sharing the load is efficient in any line of work, two or three people can get more done more quickly than one person. Unfortunately, researchers have found that such collaboration seems to be gender-coded. Some recent studies into why men publish more than women found that men do so because they do more co-authoring (Bozeman and Lee 2003; Maske, Durden, and Gaynor 2003). I’m not sure why it should be that men would be more likely to collaborate with others. This seems counterintuitive to me. Perhaps it is because men have bigger labs, more graduate student help, or more funding, but the principle remains regardless of gender. Collaboration is key to success. Co-authoring is a path to productivity. If you haven’t identified a professor or colleague to collaborate on an article with, you might want to start thinking about how that might work.

Tenure and Scholarship

In December, the Modern Language Association released its much anticipated report on the role of publications in language and literature tenure cases. The report addresses whether there is any factual basis to “widespread anxiety in the profession about ever-rising demands for research productivity and shrinking humanities lists by academic publishers, worries that forms of scholarship other than single-authored books were not being properly recognized, and fears that a generation of junior scholars would have a significantly reduced chance of being tenured.” It is not pleasant reading, so I am not recommending it, but if you are trying to make some tough decisions about what you are going to do with your life, maybe it is best to know the statistics. If it makes you mad, then you may want to move on and check out Lindsay Waters’s Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship (University of Chicago 2004).

News from the Editor

This month I am trying not to think about how much work I have to do and instead just focus on getting stuff done. If I think of all the writing projects I have to complete, I will get overwhelmed. If I think about getting this chapter done, I can keep going. Sloooooow but steady.