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WarbyNutella

No Country For Slow Men [or Women]

5 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

I’ve been considering a career in academia ever since I was an undergrad. I’m turning 30 this year. I think I should either get to it (PhD and beyond) or give it up once and for all.

The key source of anxiety for me is the hyper-productive nature of contemporary academia (cultural anthropology in my case). Everything I learned over the years from books, blogs, mentors, and peers leads me to believe that academia is a place where only the most efficient knowledge workers can hope to thrive.

My issue: while I love anthropology, I am a SLOW knowledge worker. I read slowly, I take reading notes slowly, and I write unusually slowly. Then there is memory; everything I want to commit to long-term memory takes a conscious effort and planning (which again, is rather time consuming).  

As a HS/university student I often got on simply by throwing in as many hours as it took. However, during the MA (and especially BA/MA dissertation writing) my slow pace became a severe hindrance. I finished the BA with a 3.7 GPA (4.0 within major) from a decent R1 university. However, I was leading an increasingly unhealthy life, definitely not sustainable in the long term.

My understanding is that serious PhD candidates and junior faculty in my field are estimated to work 65h/week, and are expected to be high performers in terms of their output/teaching/service. This leads me to believe that at this level I can’t expect to succeed by throwing in some extra hours. I’d run out of hours to “throw” fairly quickly.

When I feel optimistic I think that perhaps I can relearn how I work – how I read, take notes, memorize and most importantly, how I write.  I can learn to work faster/smarter/better. I assure myself, PhD programs are also about figuring THAT part out. They are also about learning how to cope with the workload.

At my lowest, I recollect late paper submissions, or the debilitating anxiety associated with being months behind schedule on dissertation work. Then I think: someone who wants to do this for a living should have breezed through BA/MA. If I haven’t figured out how to handle it better back then, perhaps it’s delusional to think that it will all magically come together now.

A part of me is afraid of investing many years only to discover that I can’t handle this type of work. To learn at 35 or 40 that I can’t do this job well. Please tell me what you think. For those who might have dealt with a similar problem, how did you overcome your SLOWNESS and become more effective?

TL;DR ---- I want to be a professor. Love the field. Had good GPA/feedback on past work. But I’m a hopelessly SLOW reader/writer. Is there hope?

Edited by WarbyNutella

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There are no easy answers except yes, there is hope. What you need to do is figure out how to make things work for you. Below are a series of questions to get you started thinking about that.

Have you heard about the Slow University (or Slow Professor) movement? (See more here and here, for starters) Have you tried various speed reading techniques to increase your reading speed? Have you considered looking into audiobooks or getting texts you need to read digitized? Have you considered anti-anxiety medicine so you won't be debilitated by anxiety? For writing, have you taken the approach of writing every day or of not revising/editing at all but free writing initially? 

Good luck! Please keep us posted.

 

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Yes, there is hope. I have a couple of colleagues who identify as slow readers and writers. One thing to consider is that "slow" is obviously relative. Have you talked to anyone about this? It might not necessarily be helpful or appropriate to compare, but you might be surprised to find that many others work slowly too. Talk to someone you trust or think would be objective. People like to show off their "productivity", but I have a hard time believing most when they brag about their workload because almost everyone who does so either exaggerates or doesn't work very effectively (i.e. a lot of that time is spent on Facebook, daydreaming, or performing menial tasks that serve as procrastination tactics).

Also, there are many different reading/writing styles among successful academics. Some read slowly, but thoroughly. Others skim and re-read strategically when necessary. The same is true of writing. Some revise while writing. Others write a lot quickly and don't worry about revising it until later. You might not always have the time to read everything slowly and thoroughly (like when you're preparing for generals/comps, and often during coursework). But slow reading can be a very helpful tactic when you're preparing the dissertation and addressing the core bibliography. Again, the same is true of writing. There will be moments when you need to write quickly, and others when it will be more advantageous to really focus and work slowly.  

What I think takes time is acquiring the flexibility to adjust your reading/writing style as appropriate. But that's what grad school is for! I would estimate that most people don't come into grad school with these skills. Your coursework is obviously intended to teach you the content of the field, but it also teaches you (though not explicitly) reading and writing strategies.

I don't have anything specific I can recommend you, this just happened to me throughout my coursework. You find ways to cut corners. Your note-taking strategies evolve. You get more comfortable just scanning a document for key terms. You know when to simply read the introduction, conclusion, and first/last sentence of body paragraphs and when to read everything in detail. As you become more experienced grappling with the current debates and core problems of your discipline you spend less time thinking through complex ideas that you were encountering for the first time as an undergraduate or masters student. You just get faster with experience.

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On 7/15/2017 at 0:05 PM, rising_star said:

Have you heard about the Slow University (or Slow Professor) movement? (See more here and here, for starters)

I've heard of this before and am curious what others think. Don't mean to hijack the thread, might be worth starting a separate one on this topic. Briefly, though, this sounds nice, but naive. Try convincing your hiring or tenure committee of the "slow academia" movement and see how that goes... 

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2 hours ago, Bleep_Bloop said:

I've heard of this before and am curious what others think. Don't mean to hijack the thread, might be worth starting a separate one on this topic. Briefly, though, this sounds nice, but naive. Try convincing your hiring or tenure committee of the "slow academia" movement and see how that goes... 

Well, I'm not in grad school anymore and we had a faculty reading group around the Slow Professor movement this year... It requires a broader mindset change, similar to the idea that we shouldn't haze junior faculty anymore. Personally, I'm no longer interested in working for a place that isn't willing to push back against the idea that we should all be working 60+ hours a week every week, plus work in the summer when we're not on contract. 

(Also, it's worth keeping in mind that tenure requirements vary widely. At several LACs that I know of, social scientists need 2-3 peer-reviewed publications total [ideally at least one with a student co-author] for tenure but there are ways around even that if you're engaged in high impact work in the community. That's not to say that isn't time consuming still but it is very different than jobs which ask for 2-3 peer-reviewed journal articles per year or a book published plus another in progress to get tenure.)

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