Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Baltimore

This weekend I am in Baltimore for the Linguistic Society of America Conference, as well as the sister societies that meet concurrently. My primary reason for being here is to present a paper for the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of America session tomorrow morning. Being at a conference like this one brings to mind the primary things it means to be an academic, things that a lot of people seem not to understand. During this time of year, when fall classes have ended and spring classes haven't yet begun, I get a lot of comments from friends and family to the gist of "Well what are you going to DO with yourself?" Most of the general public seems to think that what academics do is limited to the classroom, and that when we're not taking or teaching classes we're relaxing, going for long walks on the beach, and spending time with friends and family.

I'd like to say nothing is further from the truth, but certainly there are things further from the truth. Obviously we like to try to do these things when our schedules are more flexible (i.e., we don't have many scheduled activities from day to day). However, people in academia do much, much, much more than just deal with coursework. In fact, coursework is often the easiest and least time-consuming part of being an academic. As a graduate student, I of course have my classes to worry about, but I also have outside engagements, some more social, such as department parties, potlucks, and coffee hours (which, while enjoyable, are nonetheless required), and some more professional, such as conference presentations, paper writing, and colloquia. Since I finished up with my fall classes (turning in my last assignment no earlier than December 21st, so not that long ago), my plate has still been filled with the following items: reading a lengthy paper for my phonology class that starts a week from Monday (yes, homework even over the break), finishing revisions for a paper to appear in conference proceedings, preparing my presentation for the SSILA conference this weekend (and of course attending the conference, etc.), submitting an abstract for a conference in March (which I may or may not have the money to actually attend), and writing an initial draft of a paper for another conference volume. But wait! There's more!

Those are just things that have a firm due date during the winter break. I also submitted a book review to a journal, and I'm continuing to work on two major projects: a journal article and the foundational research for a book. During the spring semester I will doubtless tackle new projects, some with deadlines, some just long-term research, mostly based on conference papers I haven't yet had time to expand into publishable material. Professors have all these same things to do, except instead of attending classes they're teaching them, which involves a lot more work. They also have to attend department meetings, review papers and grant applications for professional organizations, meet with students, serve as members or chairs of qualifying paper and dissertation defense committees, and seek to secure funding for their research. Don't get me wrong, I love academic life. I've worked 9-5 and (7-3) before, and it doesn't agree with me. Any salaried job tends to take up your entire life, so I'm glad mine is one that I'm passionate about and lets me be a little more flexible about when I do my work, even if that ends up being days, nights, and weekends. But it makes me sigh a little when people think we spend the summer tanning and the winter skiing. We don't. We spend the summer researching, and the winter researching. And the fall and spring researching.


J. Goard said...


Even more so when you're trying to learn a foreign language well enough to read academic articles and understand presentations in it.

I spend most of my summer and winter break teaching a bunch of English classes, which would mean a pretty large yearly income if I could possibly keep it up year-round. It's wild how many people ask me what I'm doing on my "vacation", as if I possibly had disposable time or income that wouldn't go into conferences.

commentator said...

And just how do you manage?

We used to complain about our undergraduate dissertations (which we had an entire year to complete!), but i know for a fact my professor popped out papers of that scale within a few weeks on a regular basis.

Although doubtless more exciting than a 9-5 job, my great fear is that academia strains your brain to oblivion... And that i just won't be able to handle it.

(I'm going for an MPhil degree next year.)

linguistlessons said...

If you're the kind of person who has the desire to get an advanced degree, I wouldn't worry too much about straining your brain. Certainly it's tiring sometimes, but I found the opposite to be more of a problem: when I was out of academia for a year I felt disinterested and like I wasn't using my brain.