Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Annals of academic angst

Well, it has been a while since I posted here. Things were very hectic at home, with everyone deciding to fall sick, almost as if on cue, at the same time. However, everyone is back to their normal business, and it feels good to be back.

Today, I provide links to just a couple of posts; while the posts are by academics in liberal arts / humanities, everyone should be able to identify with the deeply felt views expressed by them.

The first one is from Adam Kotsko (probably a budding academic), who is grappling with what he needs to do to pass academic muster in his chosen field of philosophy. Though he likes conversing with great minds (by reading their texts), he seems exasperated by the "need to make these texts into something, turn them toward the goal of producing my own piece of writing so that I will continue to meet the requirements of scholarly productivity which graduate study is socializing into me". He finds himself trying to "figure out some way to squeeze out a paper on Zizek's use of Kierkegaard, so that I can send it off and people will publish it, so that I can write down on a piece of paper that it has been published".

Look at how an experienced academic -- Prof. Bradford DeLong, a Berkeley economist -- poses the same problem. Academia should really be about conversing with great minds and finding a compelling voice for yourself -- all the while having a great deal of fun. Academic pursuit's resemblance to a game whose goal is to build a CV of professional achievements, if it is taken seriously, will only lead to cynicism that makes you feel let down.

Best thing about both these posts is how beautifully they are able to express -- through just, plain words -- the deepest feelings of their authors. I wish I could do that ...

Note: This was originally posted over at the blog of small things on 5 April 2005.

Update: Over at Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel displays a different type of angst. This time, his musings are about "really important work" vs. "good enough" work, with the former being defined as that worthy of Physical Review Letters (we know what the latter is, don't we? ;-). Thankfully, his inner voice has put him back on track:

[...] every little bit helps. Small papers count almost as much as important ones, when it comes to demonstrating a research track record for a tenure review. By continuing to think big, I'm shooting myself in the foot ...