contra deadwood


I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I’m healthy,  I have a great family, and I’ve been successful in my chosen career. Still, there’s one thing that I do worry about – becoming deadwood. It’s part of my self-image – I just don’t want to be seen as someone who is degrading. It’s also about health. Trying to be active does seem to contribute to longevity and actually being healthy. Finally, I don’t want to be pitied. I don’t want graduate students in 2035 so look at me and say, “gee, that’s cute, it’s nice that they still keep him around.”

How does one avoid being deadwood? Well, I was lucky to have role models. At my PhD institution, I saw some really solid faculty remain very active up until retirement and beyond, like Charles Bidwell and Ed Laumann. On the internet, Pamela Oliver, the self described “olderwoman,” keeps writing, posting, and contributing. At my current employer, Indiana sociology, many advanced faculty are amazingly active. For example, our own Bernice Pescolodio remains one of the most actively and influential students of mental health in the world and has done so through a very lengthy career.

What a lot of these folks have in common, I think, is a combination of mission, a rich collection of social ties, and, lack of a better word, “discipline” or “structured practice.” Many of the folks who do avoid deadwood status deeply believe in the mission of their work. They may be concerned with status and income, but that’s by no means the whole picture. There is a deep commitment to some bigger goal that the academic profession supports.

Non-deadwood also tend to have very robust social ties. As a graduate student or colleague, I can only see the professional side of their network. But in almost all cases, I see lots of co-authoring and service work. They pop up all over the place. This is all made possible by “structured practice.” What I have noticed is that non-deadwood are very careful in terms of ordering their lives. I don’t mean that they mastered Microsoft Outlook but that they really work on building daily habits that help them manage these workloads and social ties, which in turn, contributes to longevity. 

A few days ago, I worked on my summer work schedule and I shocked to find that I had 14 projects in various stages of development. Some of these are short things, but others are serious commitments. At first, I was dismayed but then I realized that this is a nourishing life and, hopefully, a life where I will never be deadwood. And that’s a good thing.



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Written by fabiorojas

May 27, 2020 at 12:48 am

Posted in uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Professor, what are your thoughts on highly motivated academically trained older students that are approaching middle age and preparing to enter the academy?


    Armand Chevalier

    May 27, 2020 at 2:09 am

  2. Hi, Armand: First, there are some general issues that apply to all grad students – like figuring out what “really” matters v. what is just a hoop. Also, be very clear about your goals. If you want an R1 job, then your strategy is way different than if you want a private sector or teaching job.

    Second, middle age students have different personal/family issues. Younger single people/no kids people can just pack up and move very easily while this is more of an issue with older people whose spouses have careers in place X or kids. This needs to very discussed with family as you enter this labor market.

    Liked by 1 person


    May 27, 2020 at 3:50 pm

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