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A typology of academic (daily) work: “runway work”, “grunt work” and “writing/research” work

The other day, on Twitter I wrote a thread trying to think through my own ideas about a potential classification or typology of work. Like I normally do with anything that is scholarly, I write about it because I’m trying to clarify my thoughts in my own head. This typology of work should be generalizable enough to apply, obviously, to life before, during and AFTER the COVID-19 pandemic.

I think sometimes, in our institutionally-induced anxiety to “produce more, more, more” we devalue other kinds of work we do. In another thread, I distinguished 3 types of work:

  • “runway” work (hat tips to Dr. Meredith Clark who coined this “runway work” term) – this is work we need to get done even before we start “producing” (creating slides requires runway work that involves researching/reading).

Annotating reading Everything Notebook etc

  • “grunt” work – this is work that does not “appear” like it leads to getting the “most valued” work, “writing/teaching/researching”, but that we need to do. Transcribing interviews and field notes (though this could be considered “runway” work). Cleaning Mendeley/Zotero fields.

Dropping and cleaning references in Mendeley

  • “writing/researching work” – the one where we sit down and produce words on the page, edit them, produce/insert graphs, run models, etc.


As I said on Twitter, I’m trying to clarify this typology in my own head too. But basically, the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a lot of invisible work involved in getting even 10 minutes of writing done.


And don’t even get me started on care work. Writing while homeschooling 3 kids? Impossible or next to impossible (I salute you, academic parents).

In academia, contrary to this view from outside, we work A LOT and do a lot of stuff “behind the scenes”. Stuff that is not visible to a lot of people. Work that those who have systematically devalued higher education and academia are not seeing.

We should make this work visible.

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Posted in academia, productivity, writing.

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