Wednesday, November 01, 2006


A while ago now, I had a conversation with a colleague about her research, the kind of conversation one might expect academics have all the time. We stood in the hallway talking about ways to answer a question, and then more about other difficulties with the long-term project, not bad difficulties, but the good difficulties of thinking through complex questions.

The sad thing was that my colleague mentioned it's the first time she's had a conversation about her research with another colleague or gotten any feedback on research in our department in literally years. Equally sadly, I haven't gotten to hold up a wall while talking about anyone's research in ages, either.

We get so busy with committee work, teaching, and so forth sometimes that we miss the trees for the forest.

I miss the times in grad school when people would actually care enough about ideas to stand around and work them over, when people had enough of a shared body of knowledge to hash over questions, and then bring forward other sorts of knowledge to advance the issue.

Flavia over at Ferule and Fescue has a recent post up about the benefits of developing blogging relationships; I think she's totally right, but I still want to stand in the hallway with a colleague, arguing genially about what critic or theorist X thinks, and how that might be of interest or problematic.

Did I lose that, or did it only ever exist in my fantasies?


  1. Sigh. I would love to have those conversations and have tried several times to have them locally, but it just doesn't happen. However, I do have them with a few friends who live elsewhere (by phone or email).

  2. I have had a similar issue. I work in a small department. As best as I can figure, I am the only person who actually does any research. I suspect that this is an under reported malaise on many campuses. Recently, I discovered to my horror that one person in my college, despite posing very hard as a professor (and even doing so on the blogs, as well) has not actually had anything appear in print since 1999! This is depressing.

    Just this week, I had a bunch of page proofs show up by e-mail/web page in .pdf format. The turn around was supposed to be 48 hours! I would have loved to be able to ask someone else about how they handled this situation (there were certain techical complications). To my horror, I discovered that, as best as I could tell, I could not find anyone in my building, who had been in a similar situation.

    For these reasons, I too favour e-mail and phone conversations. I think that blog conversations should be treated with some skepticism. There are too many people who pose on blogs, whilst they do not deliver in real life.

    The CP

  3. The Cambridge University Library Tea-Room. The spiritual home of the pithy conversation. Every library should have one. Not having anything in print since 1999 is no sin. Publishing annually is not the academic equivalent of going up to a new level in a video game, and not publishing doesn't mean your brain has turned to mush. Any damn fool can publish regularly-that's why there is so much drivel with a UP publisher's imprint out there. Refusing to publish in print and putting everything on the web instead, under copyleft, is a badge of considerable honour. One day all academic publishing will be online, and free-to-access.

  4. I don't know anywhere where those conversations happen all the time, spontaneously. But in the medical and lab research field, there regularly scheduled lab meetings and research meeetings, where department members or lab groups meet on a regular basis to do just what you did the other day - except sitting in chairs rather than holding up the wall, and hopefully with cofee or tea and sweets or lunch. At each meeting someone presents their work,or brings a research question to the group.

    Maybe you and your colleague could try to get a regular research meeting going in your department. Even if no one has their own research to present on a given day, you could do a journal club and trash outsider's research :)

    Just an idea...

  5. Clanger,
    I assume that most active researchers also post the fruits of their work on-line. I certainly do. The problem with academics who do not publish is that they get no feedback on the quality of their work. This means that they can be working on misconceived projects, and not be aware of this fact. More often though, the lack of publications is a function of a person just being lazy. Now, I know that some people focus more upon teaching. That is ok too. These people have higher teaching loads. The problem arises when a person, or worse yet, groups of persons, with the pretentions of being research faculty fail to actually produce anything. If you can think of a case in which this is not a problem (other than obvious cases, like people working on major book projects), then I would love to hear about it.

    The CP