Thursday, January 11, 2018


I've got to write a letter in support of a colleague for the annual review.  We split the writing tasks on these letters, and this time I'm writing about their research.  But here's the thing: the work seems smart, but holy cow did I find it... boring.  I can't decide if it's because I don't know the subject area well (or even at all) or what, but I'm disappointed.  Often enough, when I write these review letters and read my colleague's work, I find it interesting and challenging.  This time, I didn't.

That's not going to stop me writing a really positive letter, because it's a smart piece and doing important work, I think.  And the other stuff was smart and interesting.  And this colleague is amazing.

(The crappy job market is crappy indeed, but it means even regional schools in the middle of the Northwoods get truly super faculty.)

I worry that the bar seems to constantly be raised for these folks in the aftermath of the horrid job market.  What I mean is, these folks come out of grad school with a number of publications, often a book MS in progress.  And then with our teaching load and a brutal work ethic, they do a great job teaching and publish and publish and publish.  Except a few don't, they only publish and publish.  That would have been perfectly reasonable, heck, really good just an academic generation ago.  But now they don't look as amazing in comparison to the publishX3 folks.

I don't think we're putting pressure on our TT colleagues for the large numbers of publications, but the pressure's definitely there.  (I see our responses in meetings and such, and we don't expect publishX3 instead of publishX1 or publishX2.  I hope that makes sense.)

Back to the boring problem.  I make an effort to read my colleague's research when I write these letters.  But I think many of my colleagues don't.  Am I overthinking, or just being appropriately responsible?


  1. You're being an excellent, responsible colleague! I appreciate that you wrote such a great letter for me. I hope I can pay it forward in the future, too. Especially at schools where there are no overlapping areas of literature study, it makes it hard to have great mentors in the actual research field. I have found some great people through blogging -- like you!

  2. You’re being a responsible colleague! But I hear you. It’s disappointing when we read a colleague’s work that’s only okay, and maybe especially when it’s also creditable, worthwhile work (I’m always disappointed when someone I find enormously stimulating to talk with or in conference papers turns out to be a deadly flat writer).

    And maybe I’m misreading, but I think you’re also suggesting that the pressure to publish, publish, publish leads to work that’s under baked, or where the author hasn’t learned/doesn’t have time to attend to style or engaging argumentation? That’s something I suspect, anyway, and it’s a shame.

    1. I don't think this article is so much under baked (though I love that analogy) as just not exciting to me. But yes, I have a colleague whose work feels under baked to me, but boy do they publish a LOT.