Here's the essence of a brief piece I cobbled together the other day for the monthly newsletter for staff at the Faculty of Nursing and Health Studies at the Manukau Insitute of Technology.   The audience for whom I wrote this was very specific but the relevance of the message goes way beyond a faculty where conscientious workers often struggle to find time to write.  That's why I thought I'd share it with you - albeit in a somewhat modified form.  The message I want to stress is simply this: in order to produce the words, you not only need to have your thoughts assembled, you also have to set aside the time to write them.  Now read on... 

There’s an irony at play in the academic world within which we operate.  To be accredited to teach at degree level, faculty staff are, ipso facto, meant to be research active.  Degree monitors, therefore, expect evidence that those teaching on degrees are either engaged in furthering their own higher education and/or are producing research outputs.  Indeed, strategic plans devised by faculties typically decree that degree teaching will be delivered by research active staff members.  Time is allocated for that purpose, albeit not much of it in the eyes of many.  Moreover, scheduling time for research and writing very often becomes subordinated when other pressures such as teaching, marking, meetings and even family matters clamour for attention. 

During a recent series of workshops, mounted by Ako Aotearoa on how to get journal articles published, Associate Professor Sue Starfield from the University of New South Wales commented on researcher reticence and publication reluctance.  She noted that confidence remains a major problem for many academics – when they do write about their research they fear failure; they shy away from possible peer review rejection and unreasonably strive for instant perfectionism.  

And all the while, according to Starfield, they display wonderfully creative excuses for not engaging in research and writing! 

Academic staff, she noted, tend not to write as a matter of routine and neither do they seek to write during whatever time of day their biological clock tells them they are most likely to be productive.  She proposed that if you feel you’d like to achieve more, consider ‘snacking’ by having what she referred to as ‘brief daily sessions’.  However, she did acknowledge that complex thinking obviously requires more than fifteen minute ‘bursts’ and to that end, she suggested a combination of chunking and brief 30 minute slots might be helpful. 

That idea isn’t new.  Dr Inger Mewburn from RMIT (otherwise known as the Thesis Whisperer) has a host of really useful resources at http://thesiswhisperer.com/ and many of these send the same message that permeated Starfield’s seminars.  These fundamentally were: go ahead, seize the time, schedule it! 

Here is a snippet from just one of a series of blogs on the matter of seizing some writing moments.  It’s the blog dated June 10, 2010 and amongst other things it says:

The takeaway message that Paul Silvia has for us in his book is that there is no such thing as academic writer’s block. He claims that, just as the  people who believe in UFO abductions tend to be the ones who get abducted, only those academics who believe in writer’s block get writer’s block. …

…The reason we don’t have time is we don’t make time by scheduling in writing along with all the other things we have to do. He accuses many academics of being ‘binge writers’ who think they will get their writing done only when they have a long stretch of time to do it.

Scheduling time (and actually taking it) is clearly crucial to success.  But given the fact that research is not always as key an imperative within strategic plans as is teaching, I wonder if there is a need for us to seriously examine institutional expectations and why the scheduling of time for research and writing time is so problematic for many?  Just how realistic are institutional expectations concerning research, which for many, may not be the key imperative that motivates them to get out of bed knowing they have to fight with the traffic merely to go to work?  Just how do we address the time-driven tensions between the imperative of providing quality teaching and demonstrating that we are truly research active?  Is this something that warrants a serious discussion?  What do you think?

Jens