Confessions of a Bored Academic

I’m an academic. For several years, post-tenure, I found myself bored with my job. That’s not the case anymore. I love my new job!

But back when I was bored, I was looking for some inspiration and, in a weird way, my boredom pushed me in new directions. How was I bored? Well, mainly I found myself bored with traditional approaches to writing – something I had to do on a regular basis.

Traditional Writing is Boring

When I first started graduate school I was super excited about writing and publishing. I have always enjoyed writing. When I started my job after graduation I was totally into my writing. Writing, at the time, provided me with an intellectual challenge. I got something out of it, and I was pretty good at it.

But somehow, over time, I have grown more wary of traditional academic writing. And by that I mean writing for scholarly journals trophythat few people read. I know people read my work. I know because they write to me or talk to me about it at conferences. I’ve got accounts on Academia.edu and ResearchGate. I know from the analytics these places send me that people pay attention to me. Heck, I just noticed that some of my papers on Academia have little trophies next to them. I don’t know what that means, but it must be good, right?

My Academia account (which I refer to more here since I’ve had it longer than the one at ResearchGate) says I’ve had 52,229 views. In the last 30 days, I had 1,638 views and of those 1,355 were unique – so I guess some people felt the need to come back more than once. I offer these numbers because I think they are at least some evidence that my work is being given at least a cursory glance. So maybe all this mumbo-jumbo about nobody looking at my work isn’t really true….

I’ve gotten off topic. It doesn’t matter how many of you run right out and read one of my papers right now. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I am finding traditional academic writing to be boring.

Why is that?

Related: That’s a Stupid Rule (And Other Thoughts on Writing)

I don’t know if I’m sure exactly, but some of my initial thoughts are because:

  • I’m not challenged at all by the writing up of the manuscript. That doesn’t mean I can bang one out without issue. It’s just that the form is the same for them – by and large – and I’ve got that down pat. Yes, the content changes, and yes, I do like my research, but I’m finding myself less motivated to write these articles.
  • My perception that no one reads them. Maybe I am wrong here. Maybe more people read them than I realize BUT not enough people read them. My articles are trapped in a tiny little academic box. If you don’t go looking for them, you will not find them.
  • My belief that there have got to be better, and more interesting ways, to spend my time as a writer. By better, I mean there must be ways that can improve my connections with a greater audience (beyond academics) and that are not so lock-step in style. This blog would be one example.

I do love writing my blog posts. Yes, there is an immediacy in terms of you being able to read it as soon as I wish to make the text available, but it also allows me to write about current issues now. Do you know how long it takes to get a current research issue to publication? Two-three years at a minimum (from the time a project is started until the first paper off it is published). That’s bad. And I’m bored with that approach. Do you know I have an article that went to press in November 2012 but which will not be published until 2016? What the heck is up with that?

What to Do About It?

Well, this blog is one of the things I do about it. It’s how I respond to my boredom with typical academic writing. It’s how I address, at least in part, issues I have with the publication process. I’ve written three books, but did you know that two of them are e-books? I walked away from a potential contract with a publisher because my heart wasn’t in traditional book publishing anymore. I just couldn’t get excited about doing all the work needed for the proposal, then spending a year or so on the book, and then waiting for it to come out. Just not interested.

I mean, honestly, I’m currently in love with exploring different modes of communication which includes this fantastic video on Derrida:

Which I found because I joined the FB group Buzzademia.

And the Derrida video, and other things like it, are appealing to me. They are short, can be mass-consumed, and involve a different way of thinking about how we present our ideas and who we have access to present them to.

That’s not to say that I think all forms of writing done by academics should be intended for mass consumption. But what I am saying is this:

Traditional academic writing and publishing is limiting in many ways. I am finding the whole process to be tedious and boring. I’m not saying I should do away with traditional academic writing, but I need to get out and explore some other avenues.

Where do you stand?

Comments 9

  • At the risk of sounding like that old guy who says “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn,” your post gives me the following reactions. After a whole career where climbing the academic writing wall, I find myself increasingly in situations where the writing does not matter. I mean neighborhood centers with 20-something, nearly illiterate high school graduates where afternoons are full of endless basketball shots and evenings are full of violence. There is no university presence there. Instead, community groups are stepping in to connect youth to jobs, find free eye exams and eyeglasses for kids who need them. The distance between the university and these places may as well be the distance between here and Mars. Recently, a colleague got lots of media attention for noticing huge technology discrepancies between places like this and the suburbs. But he got the attention, not the kids and their families afflicted with the results of poverty and illiteracy.

    On another front, it is pretty clear that legislators are not reading much if anything of what we write. If anything, there is a growing anti-intellectualism that views our writing and research time as expensive frills. This is fueled by folklore from programs like Teach for America, Teachers for a New Era and emerging new models for teacher preparation that emphasize practical experience while criticizing traditional teacher prep as overly theoretical. On our end, we seem to have lost capacity for self-reflection, particularly from a programmatic sense. We are so preoccupied with defending ourselves from outside attacks, that we have neglected to ask if we are doing the best we can for new times. Case in point: the number 1 teacher prep program in US News has not changed the design or delivery of the program in 25 years. On the one hand, one could say “Why mess with success?” But this attitude has the effect of chilling any consideration of needed change or current effectiveness. And so against the emerging models, the champion teacher prep program can appear stodgy and stale. There is no evidence-based pushback to greet the newcomers.

    I’ve got 5 years to go before I retire and feel very fortunate for the career I have had. But change is clearly here and things won’t go back to the way they were. I see many around me trying desperately to hang on to a past that no longer exists. On the exciting side, it could be a great time for early and mid-career teacher educators who sense the possibilities in the changes. There are new scenarios and new “markets” emerging for teacher ed. A challenge is that the newcomers don’t trust us- we haven’t exactly been very trusting ourselves or open to change. The clever and insightful among us will see the potential and there will be a new future for teacher prep. It won’t happen by clinging hopefully to a long gone past.

  • It is an interesting time for sure, and one that has many possibilities for change. I am interested to see what teacher prep looks like in 10 and 20 years from now. I hope some things have changed for the better.

    I think the disconnect you site between our research/writing and the community is a large part of my concern. I do see value in speaking to academic communities. I am hopeful that the work I do is read by them and inspires/changes/pushes their research in some way (as their work does to mine). But the problem of course is that the academic community is just one community that I am situated in. However, in academia it is the one with the greatest value – which is too bad. I think it’s important to start thinking about different ways to connect ourselves to other communities, and to do so mindfully and purposefully in ways that support those communities. I’m not sure what this all looks like in action, but I’m excited to try to figure out my own path.

  • […] agenda does serve me very well though. I have gotten lots of shiny publications (with trophies!), grants, awards  – plenty of recognition. So in that sense my research agenda has worked […]

  • […] November: Confessions of a Bored Academic […]

  • […] I think it’s time – way past the time – for those of us who conduct research to examine how we communicate our work and who we communicate it to. I’ve written about this before. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the traditional concept of a research agenda and how I think we need to consider if/how we can situate our agendas in collaboration with the communities our work is supposed to serve. I’ve argued that the traditional framework of a research agenda tends to be pretty self-serving. I’ve also talked about problems with traditional writing and publishing in academia. […]

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