Three weeks ago, I submitted a grant proposal for a project that would require four researchers (me and 3 others) to engage in a water conflicts project. I wrote the grant proposal in basically, three hours. 3 hours where nobody else but me, my colored pens, and my notebook were in the same space (mental, physical in terms of location and in terms of lack of activity). I had both the mental AND the physical space to write the grant proposal (I had finished my meetings and keynote lecturing commitments and I was waiting for my flight back home). I was able to write a new grant proposal, with fresh thoughts, because I had the time for reflection. What bothers me is how a lot of things occupy our time, as busy academics (graduate students and professors) we end up lacking the time and mental space we need for exactly the thing we are supposed to be doing.
It took having to come to University of Connecticut for a few days to give two talks to force me to write a talk on the human right to water from a public policy analysis perspective and preparing Power Point slides for another talk on deep ethnography, transnational activism and vulnerable communities. Both talks will become papers in their own. But it took having to commit to do these activities to really engage with these topics again. It took having to come to a different country (the US) and university (UConn Storrs) for me to dialogue with other bright students and faculty members from other universities to engage deeper in my own work.
The fact that our busy lives force us to do a lot of things fast and hurriedly has made me more keenly aware of the need for time for self-reflection and a defender and promoter of “slow research”. Those 2 hours in the morning when I write, I often write reflections, rather than “generative text”. That is, I give myself the morning hours not only to write papers, but also to write memorandums, reflective notes to myself, etc. Otherwise I will never move forward in my research trajectory. If I don’t MAKE time to take a self-reflective stance and think hard about my next steps in my academic career, I will not be able to progress. I will be spinning my wheels, and that would pretty much derail everything I have been working so hard to achieve in the past three years. I cannot allow for this to happen.
I also have decided to start blogging about my research interwoven with other scholars’ writings (e.g. engaging in an intellectual dialogue across our respective work, see for example my “conversation” with a recent piece by Murdie and Urpelainen). This is a new model for self-reflection for me. I know several people who think that spending as much time as I do engaging with the literature when I prepare my lecture slide deck, or even when I read and highlight papers is in some way a waste of time or an inefficient use of the same. But in my view it is not. Writing memos, highlighting, writing notes on the margin, reading itself and looking at data and creating datasets are all activities that require deep engagement, not superficial browsing.
Therefore, to be perfectly honest, I am really glad in some ways that I travel as much as I do. I take time to read, do some writing, reflect, highlight, etc., while I am travelling. Since I teach twice a day, two days per week, and I spend a lot of time preparing my lectures, any time I can get to reflect on my research needs to be maximized. Again, I just find it ironic. Our profession is all about “think hard, reflect, expand your horizons” and the reality is, we have become paper-churning machines. Whether this is the result of the corporatization of the university or the nature of academic life, I am not going to debate, but what I will continue to do is carve time and protect it for my own self-reflection.