Lately there’s been some pressure at my institution to stop doing things “just to do them.” In other words, as the focus shifts toward an emphasis on things like student recruitment and retention, you have to make a case for how the things you do contribute to those goals. If they don’t, the implication is that you shouldn’t be spending time on them.
I have a bit of a problem with the assumption implied in the idea of doing things “just to do them.” But I also acknowledge that I’ve had an unusual amount of autonomy in my work up to this point and that that autonomy has allowed me to work on a lot of enjoyable side projects like this one.
I started this blog in March of 2018 and have published at least once or twice a week since then. In that time, my readership (which I measure by the very basic stats provided by WordPress) has gone up from approximately three views a week to closer to 100. Maybe. On a good week.
The thing is, no one writes blogs anymore, unless that blog is attached to a larger publication. It’s quaint. It’s antiquated. Chuck Wendig, whose blog helped inspire this one, recently compared blogging to “putting your podcast on vinyl.”
No one writes blogs anymore. No one reads blogs anymore. Who has the time? And it’s unlikely to blogging like this contributes in any direct way to larger goals like recruitment and retention.
Warning: The following post contains some discussion of (fictional) suicide and related mental health issues. Read with care. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can offer immediate support or refer to these resources from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Things have been pretty stressful lately. There’s been a lot of upheaval at my institution and the road ahead looks pretty rocky, at least for those of us here in the library. I’ve drafted some posts about how some of this has been affecting me, especially given my new leadership role as the head of my department. But honestly that stuff gets pretty depressing. I still might share some of it but I wanted to focus instead this week on something I’m looking forward to: summer projects.
There’s nothing better than the “fresh start” feeling that comes with the end of the school year and the start of summer. The campus is starting to get quiet again. Soon, us twelve-month employees will have the place more or less to ourselves. Things with slow down, at least theoretically. Best of all, there’s vacation time within sight on the schedule.
Of course, some of this is a mirage. Everyone knows that summer is “slower” so that’s often when you suddenly get piled with committee projects and trainings and other odds and ends that you’re supposed to suddenly have time to do. Plus there are the projects that can only really happen during the summer, like updating tutorials and websites while the potential for disruption is relatively low, so sometimes it’s a mad dash to get all of that done too.
So it’s easy to start out with some goals in mind and easy to let those goals fall by the wayside. By stating some of my goals and projects here, in a public if not particularly high traffic area, I’m hoping that will give me some accountability.
Here are what I’m hoping my priorities for the summer might be:
So a few weeks ago I talked about my new adventures in creative research, something I’m taking on to supplement my scholarly investigations into the role of research in creative writing. Long story short: creative research (i.e. research to enhance a creative work) is something I’ve never engaged in much myself because the creative writing I do is more for fun than Serious Work, but I wanted to try it out as part of a revision of a novel-length story I completed the first draft of a few months ago.
I talked before about how two of the characters in that story work in a bar and how I ended up doing research using internet sources like YouTube and Liquor.com to try to add a little authenticity to the work they do in the story and how they each think and talk about their work. In this case, I wasn’t able to go to the location the bar in the story is loosely based on because of COVID and time issues, but I was able to learn enough from the internet to improve the generic BS about bartending and cocktails that was in the original draft.
So I’m still working on that same project. In addition to working in a bar, the characters in question also play music. Specifically, guitar. One is in a band, the other is just starting to learn. This has been another area of research but it’s one where I’ve managed to reap the benefits of hands-on, in-person research rather than just scrolling the internet.
I wouldn’t say that everything I teach students about research is lies, but there is admittedly a lot that I teach them that I don’t necessarily practice myself. In my own course, I’m open with students about that fact. For example, students in my classes know that I, like them, rarely create my own citations from scratch. Not because I don’t understand how to construct a citation, but because a lot of the scholarly articles I write have dozens of citations in them and frankly who has time for that? Instead, I use whatever citation is generated by the database where I found the source and then edit it to match the quirky preferences of the journal I’m hoping to submit to. The rest is the work of diligent copyeditors.
Other supposed sins I commit: I use Wikipedia all the time and generally trust the information I find there. I almost never go past the first page or two of search results on Google. And I rarely do all (or even most) of my research before I start to write something.
Arguably, the difference between me committing these sins and students doing the same thing is that I have the experience and expertise to understand (and hopefully avoid or at least make peace with) the potential pitfalls of what I’m doing. Students are still developing the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to do that.
But really my main message to students is that there’s no one right way to do research. Everyone has their own approach and just because that approach doesn’t match the rigid ideas they learned about from some librarian (like me) or some professor, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
That’s what I do in my own course. When I teach one-shot sessions, things are different in part because I’m constrained by the course instructor’s expectations about what they want students to learn as part of the instruction I’m giving them. Since the instructor is the expert on their students and the assignment they’ll be working on, I tend not to push back too much. Even when I think what they want me to teach is stupid.
Like concept maps. I think concept maps are stupid.
In the time since I got tenure myself in 2019, I’ve been asked to do a small handful of external reviews for promotion and tenure cases at other institutions, about 1-2 a year. For some reason, the prospect of writing external reviews for outside cases wasn’t something I thought much about as a possibility until I was being asked to do it. As with every other new professional endeavor, conducting these has definitely been a learning experience.
Last week, I reflected on some of the successes I experienced while teaching my first information literacy course focused on the contextual nature of research. In this course, I based units on different types of research (academic/scholarly, personal, professional, creative, scientific) and asked students to produce both examples of academic/scholarly work and another type of research of their choice. Overall, the course really did go well but there were definitely some difficulties too, both expected and not.
First, I was surprised and pleased that the students in this class had an easier time grasping what creative research is than students in past courses where I’ve brought up this idea. In the past, when I talk to students about creative research, they express confusion. They want to know: isn’t all research creative? And when I tell them that, yes, all types of research can be creative but not all research is creative research, it doesn’t always quite sink in. To be fair, the course is short and back then I wasn’t spending quite as much time explaining the different types of research to students—only telling them that there were, in fact, different types.
The students in this course really seemed to get creative research and for their second project a few of them even submitted examples of creative research products (including drawings they’d made, photos they’d taken, and poems they’d written) with some great reflections on the role research played in these projects. I was very happy!
But there was still one type of research that students didn’t seem to get: professional research. This surprised me. A lot.