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On doing the grunt work in academia

While I have pushed for reflection and slow scholarship in my blog, I have to admit that some of the less romantic and glamorous parts of academia don’t particularly excite me. I call that “the grunt work“.

Like many people in my profession (academia), I find it hard to motivate myself. Even with my own tricks and “hacks”, where I convince my brain that I can knock off a few Quick Wins by finishing simpler tasks in blocks of 30 minutes, where I do granular planning and break down each component of a project into thirds (the Rule of Three method), even though I focus on just ONE task at a time, it’s hard for me to get motivation. And doing the grunt work doesn’t excite me either.

Even worse, sometimes, writing IS grunt work, as writer Jodi Picoult emphasizes.

Writing memoranda, rhetorical precis and extracting quotations to fill your Excel conceptual synthesis dump sheet? Grunt work.

#Memorandum #AcWri

I would LOVE to say that as soon as I turn on my laptop, Word immediately launches and I can start typing sentences that are coherent, and that I write for 2 hours and that life is good and I have a solid 2,500 words by the end of my morning session. This isn’t the case.

Let me tell you a little story, just from the past couple of days. I am coauthoring a book chapter with a colleague in Germany. To work on this chapter, I needed to do the following:

  • Print out his email to me, and the chapter draft he sent me.
  • Read my coauthor’s requests and map out in my Drafts Review Matrix what I was going to do.
  • Start going through the table, all the while deciding what I could realistically finish in the time I was allocating for the edition of this chapter.
  • Search Mendeley for the right references I needed to insert to back up my argument.
  • Since I am not the lead author on this particular chapter, I had to make sure to insert the references and then create a bibliography from where he could copy the references he needed (he uses EndNote and I use Mendeley, which can make coauthoring a bit complicated).
  • Type an email responding with the changes I made.

Of the list of activities I show above, only ONE would count ordinarily as “writing” (e.g. producing text). But as I have argued before, typing the email response, creating the Draft Review Matrix, writing the list of items I had to edit, all of this was grunt work, and therefore, it should also count as writing.

What counts as grunt work?

I wish the grunt work were valued as much as the actual production of words. But all academic activity includes a certain amount of this type of activity. I hope we can find a way to value it as much as we do other research-related activities.

Posted in academia, productivity, research, writing.

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