Perks of Researching Publicly


As a young professional in the academic field, I’ve been thinking carefully about the ways in which I make myself visible in the realm of social media carefully. I think it is unlikely and unreasonable for a scholar of my generation (very early Millennial) to be completely removed from social media and the Internet at large. Also, as I am exploring the possibilities of adding Digital Humanities components to my work, familiarity and comfort with digital tools is becoming more and more of a thing.

So why track my productivity in a public forum like Twitter?

First of all, it helps keep me honest. Studies have shown that accountability is the biggest predictor of success when it comes to creating new habits or achieving long term goals like weight loss or completing a degree. I know my dissertation group in grad school was a huge help in terms of structure, support and accountability to keep working, plugging away. Having fellow scholars to talk to, who could celebrate along with me that I wrote 12 WHOLE PAGES this week, was a big deal, both in terms of keeping motivated and in terms of staying sane during the isolating and lonely process of writing. While my colleagues here at Georgia Tech are amazing and wonderful, we aren’t all working on the same things, in the same field, or even on the same kinds of projects. Many would happily applaud my current accomplishments (I’ve added 80 sets of records to the database today!) they aren’t in the same trench and they aren’t digging with the same kind of shovel.


Second, I have come to realize that so much of the work that we as faculty and scholars do is invisible. I had a rather candid conversation with students last semester about why it took me SO LONG to get papers back to them (to be clear, SO LONG = 2 weeks). I asked the students how many of their papers I had to grade, and they looked around the room and said 22. I said, ok, but I have two other sections of this class, so multiply that number by 3. Asked how long they thought it took me to grade each paper, (or how long they hoped I spent on each paper), they gave a fair estimate of 15-20 minutes each. So even if I did nothing but grade, 70ish papers at 15 minutes a pop is nearly 18 hours of grading. Then, adding in the rest of the work for our class, which was teaching 3 sections for 1 hour a pop, three times a week, plus at least an hour of prep for each of those classes has me at 12 hours of teaching/prep time a week. Add another 4 hours a week for office hours and I’m spending 16 hours a week still working FOR them, but not on grading their papers. Then we add in things like eating, sleeping, commuting to and from campus (we live in Atlanta after all) and my students started to very quickly feel like 2 weeks turn around on their papers was reasonable after all. Then I started adding in the work they don’t see. Answering emails. Departmental committees and service requirements. And my research work – I spend probably 5-10 hours a week reading, either fiction in my field or academic articles and I try to write for 30-45 minutes every day. All of this on top of having a family and a social life. By the time I stopped adding things to that list, my students were kind of aghast at how much work I did and realized that when I said I spent all of my spring break grading their papers, I wasn’t kidding.

So to me, making the work that I am doing over the summer (and possibly into the school year) public does some of the work of making that labor more visible. It gives me something to point to when acquaintances or family members joke “It must be nice to have the summer off.”

Third, one of the things I struggled most with early in graduate school was the never-ending nature of our jobs. Once all the papers are graded, the classes for this week prepped and the inbox set to zero, there are articles to write, journals and new books to read, research to conduct, service to complete, students to mentor, networking to maintain . . . it can make a person crazy. Early on, I had to set goals for myself of what a “full day” of work looked like and find a way to turn that off at a reasonable hour.

Finally, I am starting to become more and more of a data hound. I am fascinated by the kind of data we generate as human beings and the devices that help us do it. I have a FitBit. I use Forest to track my productivity. And the more data I generate, the more honestly and realistically I can estimate how long it will take me to read a book, write an article, review an essay, write a letter of recommendation, or grade 70 papers. It will help me be a more efficient scholar, teacher and, frankly, friend and spouse – when my friends ask if I can come out to see Wonder Woman on Friday, I can look at what I need to get done this week, estimate how long it will take and say “absolutely yes, I’ll be there!”