Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where does my research go from here?

As many of you know (because I've been cooing about it on Facebook), my book, published two years ago, now has been reviewed three times and the reviews are all positive. The most recent one, even though it was at times the most critical, was also simultaneously the most enthusiastic. It even made me blush a little bit. It also made me feel pressure to make good on the promise the reviewer seems to think it shows for additional scholarship. As I've been joking, I'm now resting on my laurels, but they're feeling a little prickly.

Like Dr. Crazy, I'm feeling a little like I'm done jumping through hoops, that I don't have to write a second book. Like her, I didn't actually have to write a first book for tenure at my institution, but I did feel I needed to write one to be someone in the field, to feel like I was on par with my peers at fancier universities. But now, also like Dr. Crazy, I'm a little more relaxed about my status and professional identity. (Tenure, promotion, a juicy raise, and good reviews will do that for you.) And unlike what seems to be the case at Dr. Crazy's somewhat similar university, I don't absolutely have to write another book to make full professor; although most of the literature people in the department have done so, a woman in linguistics went up last year with a series of substantial articles (more the norm in her subfield), which helpfully sets a precedent for the department in general. And at our university, the process for full talks about your contribution to and status in your field, and so I'd use reviews and citations of my older work, as well as new work to help establish that (although my previously achieved laurels alone wouldn't do it, of course). That said, our administration seems to want to ramp up research expectations (at the same time that they want to increase teaching load, either by classes or enrollment, of course!), so I need to keep an eye on that and not simply assume that all will continue as it has done. Not to mention the fact that the discipline in general keeps expecting more from each generation. (Why do we do that??)

But the thing is, I'm not sure I have it in me. I have ideas, but I'm just not sure they're book-length ideas. There are two things that I'm spinning my wheels on now. One is on the same genre (in the broadest sense) as the subject of my book, but a different sub-genre from a different part of late medieval/early modern England. That project is definitely only article-length. The other project is related to my previous work only in so far as the socio-economic strata that produced and consumed the texts in question is related to the topic of my first book. It's in a completely different genre, however, and requires of me new skills and knowledge, so it's both daunting and exciting, because it will keep me from getting bored and my work from seeming stale, I hope. It also, at first, seemed like a complex and wide-ranging topic and I thought it would become my next book, but now I'm not so sure. It involves a long list of texts, but the texts themselves are not all that complicated, and I'm starting to think that while it will take a lot of time, effort, and research to show their textual and cultural interrelations and significance, it won't take a lot of pages of writing to do so. I could be wrong -- in the process I might find I have a book after all -- but it looks now like I have another substantial article, perhaps a Speculum-length article, but not a book.

And after that I got nothing. Or at best, I have some very sketchy little obsessions about things I've taught. But see, none of the projects above or the sketchy ideas are really closely related to each other, and so I couldn't put them together to make a book. So what if the second project above really isn't a book-length one? It's possible that I could produce what's 'in the queue' now as articles and maybe a book might germinate out of that. That is, one of those projects might lead to something else that really is a book-length project. Right now, I think that's my plan: keep working on the ideas I've got, following leads and pursuing questions, and keep my eyes open for the bigger picture, if there is one. How I ended up with project number two in the last paragraph, after all, was pretty serendipitous. If not, a series of 4-6 really substantial, well-placed articles would probably get me to full professor, and I've had one come out and one submitted since tenure, so I'm already 1/2 or 1/3 of the way there. I think for my sabbatical application I might still pitch that second project as a potential book, especially since I'll be applying for a whole year, but certainly the manuscript research I need to do will take a year of planning and travelling, anyway, so that will help. But if in the long run it's better as a longish article, that's fine with me.

Of course, if my projects don't turn into books, that means that I take myself out of the running for any moves to more prestigious jobs, but I'm OK with that. First of all, I can't work at the faster or more demanding pace that such a job would require. Take this morning as an example: all I've done is read a chapter of a scholarly work and write this blog post. I'm a slow reader, thinker, and writer. And that's all I manage when I'm not teaching; I manage less when I am. I already have a 2/2 load here (normally 2/3, but I'm grad director, remember) and so a more prestiguous job wouldn't mean any teaching reduction. And these days the grass is no longer looking especially greener at either the public or private R1s or SLACs. Add the greater expecations and pressure to that, and they're really not. And then there's the two-body problem, which Bullock and I conveniently avoided having by meeting here at Rust Belt -- why mess with a good thing?

But staying here at Rust Belt and continuing to publish substantial articles, and doing so in visible places, I think I'd still be contributing to the field, and I'd certainly be contributing to the education of students. I'd still have expertise in the field to share with my students, undergraduate and MA level, and enough visibility and standing that my letters of recommendation for students applying to graduate programs would have substance and weight. And so this is my plan now: keep following the leads and see where they take me, whether that's to articles or a book or a combination of both.


Dr. Crazy said...

V - I think that your strategy sounds awesome, and it sounds entirely appropriate both for your own process and for your institution. I actually had a great meeting with my chair today about the going up for full business, and he agrees with me that it's ridiculous that a book would be the "done" thing if one already has a book... and he's totally on board with setting the wheels in motion both to mentor more people to full and to articulate more clearly what potentially can count for making full.

But seriously: the best thing about tenure (or it should be, it seems to me) is that you can roll how you roll. You're not in a position where you need to jump through hoops anymore. And thus, the point is really doing work you believe in. No reason to do anything else :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a slow reader, thinker, and writer.

Thank you for this whole post, but this bit is possibly the most useful/helpful/hopeful for me right now. (Since I'm nowhere near needing *another* book-length project!) I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were both feeling worried and frustrated about the fact that other people seem to get things done so much *faster* than we do--that we could put in the same number of hours and see much less in the way of tangible result. And there's pressure to be one of the students getting things done quickly, even if you need a lot of mulling time. So it's helpful just to know that there's a variety of speeds out there.

Bavardess said...

I, too, was reassured by your comment about the speed of your work. I'm a reasonably fast reader, but I do like/need plenty of time to mull over what I've read, and writing is always a slow process, too. Your plan to take things as they come sounds sensible, and who knows what will emerge from your sabbatical research? Leaving your options open seems like a good call at this point.

Susan said...

Just to second Dr. C's comment: your approach is perfect. My experience is that you have something noodling around in your mind, and you think THIS is the question, and you start after it, and finally realize that it's THAT, and you run with it. Now, I'm a historian, but still. . . So maybe you'll have a few really great articles, and THEN find your next book. Or else a series of really interesting articles...

My word -- I kid you not -- is "chooses"

Renaissance Girl said...

Though it must be acknowledged that he came up in a different time than the hyperprofessionalized one we now occupy, I'd just like to say that my diss director built a world-class reputation in his field on a handful of brilliant, artful, helpful articles. If your thoughts resonate best in articles, yay. And if they coalesce into a book, that's fine too. But it sounds like your position is an enviable one right now: you have the good thing, and can continue to work into your intellectual sparks without that constant nagging sick-inducing pressure to produce the Book.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Dr. V., I can't believe it's taken me this long to find you, because I'm going through similar things, only a few years behind you, and I could have been listening to you all this time! This (admittedly old) post in particular resonates with me, in the final stages of first-book publication, and wondering what's next.

I note you haven't been blogging much lately, but I'm going to make a point of bookmarking this anyway, in hopes that you'll be back at it soon.