bring out your deadwood

My early experience of  faculty meetings led me to believe that they often approximate Monty Python sketches. So naturally when it came time to pitch ideas for my first Michigan Sociology Cabaret, I reached deep into the archive of my impudence and proposed the title of this post: “I’m not deadwood yet . . . I think I’ll write a book!” [1]  More discrete voices prevailed [2].  A few short years later I find myself pondering book writing.

I’m an inadvertent article person. In grad school I would have sworn books would be my primary medium [3]. But somehow the dissertation never got revised. Interesting article ideas kept popping up, grants got funded, and soon I was running research projects based around big data collection, divided labor, collaboration, and sundry interdisciplinary configurations.  Lots of time spent observing and thinking about the work of large scientific research teams may also have inclined me in this direction. A lot of what I know about structuring collaborative research I learned by studying biologists.

As I approach the end of my first decade post-dissertation, I find myself wondering what I’d leave on the table by working to turn myself permanently into this dude.

The cost of that model is the need to keep feeding the beast, the sense that I can only tackle questions I know enough about to deconstruct into tasks that can be shared with co-authors and students, and the non-negligible training and translation efforts that go into team-based, interdisciplinary research. Well, that and the fact that my work now has so many moving parts that my professional life has come to feel like a ping-pong match with a meth-addled squid.

The benefits are immense, but mostly stem from a depth and range of thought I could never manage on my own.  I’m fairly committed to the idea that cognition is social, so no surprise that my intellectual process requires the friction of multiple perspectives. Plus I often get to drink good wine with friends and call it “work.”  I should add that I’m easily bored and team science keeps things interesting. Still, I sometimes jones for a quieter, more integrated and contemplative scholarly life.

[1] If you’re not sure why that might be funny, go watch this.

[2] Another idea rightly consigned to the ash pile of sociological comedy was Qual Eye for the Quant Guy: “What do you mean I don’t attend to contingency? Did you see the three way interaction in my last ASR?”

[3] Of course I also went to grad school thinking I would do theory, critical post-post-structuralist theory.  Here’s two and a half cheers for being beaten into the middle range.

Written by jdos23

January 20, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Posted in academia

5 Responses

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  1. Thanks, that’s a great thumbs-up for collaboration?
    As an aside, [3] resonates with my current experience so much, it’s depressing.



    January 20, 2010 at 11:18 pm

  2. The U of M is one school, and Eastern Michigan University is another. EMU began in 1849 as the Michigan Normal College to train teachers, so our motto is “Education First.” We are a teaching institution. We offer very few doctorates. (Education is one, of course.) Our faculty do win grants and work on other projects, and they publish, as you would expect, but generally speaking, by and large, for the most part, the faculty here teaches. Teaching is our primary product at EMU.

    Our graduate students are GAs not TAs. They do clerical work, They do not teach. Professors teach — full, associate, or assistant; adjunct or visiting — all professors teach. Graduate students are here to learn.

    So, if you want to run a lab or whatever, there are places to do that and they are important and necessary and if not for them, we might not have content to teach about. So, that’s fine.

    But if you get tired of the grind, you might consider a teaching school. There are many, most of them small, four-year colleges.

    BTW the American Council of Trustee and Alumni (ACTA) recently gave the U of M a D-minus grade for its lack of undergraduate standards.
    And, darn, they did not have a good football season, either…


    Michael E. Marotta

    January 21, 2010 at 1:56 am

  3. I’ve always heard that you can reach a wider and more diverse audience with books over articles. If that’s true, then it seems like there’s a tradeoff: on the production side, you get more people involved by writing articles; on the consumption side, however, you might get a bigger conversation going by writing a book. I guess it depends on your goals.



    January 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm

  4. @Russ. Indeed. If I’m remembering correctly there’s an older AJS piece by Lis Clemens and others that makes just this point.



    January 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

  5. Nice reflections. I’m also ambivalent about the big science model and daydreaming about a book next. The benefits are there and the collaboration is often enjoyable. But the hours of project management do add up and often seem to interrupt the blocks of thinking or writing time I’ve penciled in.



    January 24, 2010 at 6:49 pm

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