Summer-time and the "Happy Academic"

I came across an article in the CHE today, “Making Time” by Julia “not her real name” Goode that rang awfully true to me. It’s another essay that discusses the peculiar problems of the “work time” of academics.

Now, Goode’s experiences are slightly different from mine because her husband is a practicing attorney (whereas my wife is also an academic and we both have these strange schedules), and because a lot of her problems in the article seem to revolve around what she admits is a “pathological need for social acceptance among peer mothers” (something I don’t think either my wife or I have).

But there are two things she writes about I can completely relate to. First, because she’s not teaching in the summer, people in the rest of the world think she isn’t “working” in the summer. Nothing could possibly be further from the case. Second, there is a constant “ying/yang” thing about the academic concept of “work time.” Eliminate the word “legal,” and I think this quote from the essay sums it up pretty well for me:

I generally appreciate the fact that producing legal scholarship is a solitary effort. I don’t have to worry about others pulling their weight or finishing their piece so I can start on mine. I work at my own pace, on my own time. I don’t have a senior partner or a supervisor calling me every day asking me where I am on a certain project. No one is watching.

The downside is that I have no daily or weekly deadlines to push me or keep me on track. I have a six-year deadline that requires marathonlike pacing. Unless I am extremely self-disciplined, I could wake up the year before my tenure vote having written nothing. Obviously, that is extreme. But come mid-July, more than once I have realized that I’ve done very little research in the previous six weeks and the new semester is rapidly approaching.

That much freedom is like enough rope to hang yourself, and it can also lead to a feeling of always working. That can lead to an unhappy academic if you don’t like the “work” in the first place.

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