Wednesday, July 8, 2015

You should be writing

One of the things that surprises me most about myself as an academic is my seeming inability to relax, and to not feel guilty. As I sit here writing this, waiting for a PDF to build for an article submission, I'm feeling guilty. I'm not in the lab for one - we have taken the entire week off waiting for a purity report for some antigens. I'm happy to report that the antigens are pure and we can move ahead - or maybe backwards, not sure. But three days out of lab, even though I finished and submitted a paper and my student spent the days working on her manuscript seems like me failing her. I should have been in the lab with her every day, even though I don't care that she spent the day reading while I spent the day reformatting and submitting. We'll be back at it tomorrow.
I feel guilty that I decided this morning not to pursue the grant due next week, but to instead focus on revising and getting another paper out. It often feels that writing, that one thing we largely do alone, is the thing that brings us the most guilt. We feel bad for not writing, hence the popular meme "you should be writing".

I've selected Bender as my stand in, but there were great Sci-fi and similar choices. However, when presented with a choice, I will most often choose Futurama. Source:

However, one thing that we talk about much less, is the guilt we feel for writing. Robert Boice has written on this (and Robert Boice might be the greatest thing for the academic since the decision to not make us wear the robes all the time). He observes that academics often sacrifice writing time, even though it is the most relevant thing we do towards tenure, for other things and other people. Writing can seem like the ultimate selfish act, because it is something we generally do alone, often away from other people, and this can feel selfish.

That is certainly how I feel today. I feel selfish for spending the morning reformatting that paper and getting the reformatted material submitted. I feel like I should have been in lab with my student. I now feel guilty for immediately jumping into the next revision instead of trying to pull together revisions for the grant due next week, even though I think the grant needs serious reframing to include a entirely new area of research. And, I do need to be in the lab the rest of this week. And we do have family in town this weekend. About the only time I don't feel guilty about writing is not when I am writing (because then I feel guilty about what I am writing) is during hot yoga, when every fiber of my being is concentrating on not vomiting. This may explain why every time I submit a manuscript or a grant, I go to hot yoga.

By any measure, it has been a pretty productive summer. I've got 3 articles in review, 2 grants in review (since May) and a book chapter going into press this Friday. Two other manuscripts are fully drafted and just need considerable revision. And yet still, making the decision not to grant write this month, but to focus on manuscripts, fills me with guilt. And it shouldn't. But shouldn't does not mean doesn't.

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