As summer comes to a close and we get ready to return to the classroom,
I've been thinking more about the different shapes my colleagues'
summers have taken, about how much we've written and how much real
holiday we've taken. As a philosophy department chair, one of my
responsibilities is chairing the department's annual performance
evaluation committee and each year I'm struck anew by how hard some of
my colleagues work. I feel humbled by how much very high quality work
some colleagues publish.
We rank in all three areas of responsibility–research, teaching, and service–but my comments here are just about research. I don't feel personally hard done by our system. For the most part I accept my lot as a middle of the pack publisher in a very high achieving department. But as I think about the range of performance in the area of publishing, I'm also struck by how entrepreneurial academic workplace culture is. At least in the area of research, post tenure, our jobs are what we make them. Hard working colleagues set the bar for a top grade in research very very high. Many, perhaps most, of the top achieving people have no outside interests. One has been known to say that he regards all music as a distraction, as a waste of time. Some of these colleagues are single and childless. All of them write papers on vacation, if they vacation at all. For those who work in the United States, in any field, this might be considered normal. But outside the US, people take holidays, spend time with their friends and families, and have hobbies and interests outside work. Many private businesses require employees to take holidays and some of those employees have the sort of work that doesn't travel well to the beach. But the flexibility that is a wonderful aspect of a academic life–I can get started on a paper while watching a child's rugby game–is also a downside. Sometimes I feel I ought to get started on that paper while I'm watching a child's rugby game. And it's not just my children's interests that get in the way of writing. I'm also an avid road cyclist and that takes up time too. I wouldn't have it any other way. I lead a rich and active life, full of diverse interests. This also means I'll never get the highest score in the area of research. Mostly that feels okay–if we did "life evaluations" I think I might come out tops–but I do wonder at the cost of our entrepreneurial work culture and if we're well served as a community by standards set by those who choose to write singlemindedly into the night through summer vacations.