Academic Mondays: Research Culture II


A friend says her problem is not only the lack of resources, conditions, and funding for research, it is the lack of a research culture. She says she needs a research culture, and she clearly does not consider this need to be a personal failing. She believes it is normal.

As we know, I have been told many times that one should not need a research culture. One has all the resources one needs since one has electronic access to so many things. I have explained before that electronic access is a supplement and enhancement, not a replacement for actual libraries and archives. I have said I wanted a research culture. I have acknowledged how self indulgent it is to want one, and how weak I am to need one. I have not allowed myself to consider it an objective necessity.

From very early on I was told that my goal was teaching and that I would have a hard time remembering research. My interest in research was disappointing to those who held this expectation and I came to feel guilty about having it. At the same time I feel guilty not being more productive than I am. I self mutilate in many contradictory ways, all so as to become the right person.

But this colleague says a research culture is a necessity. She says it completely naturally, the way one says food is a necessity. I find this fascinating. She believes herself to have the right to exist as herself. That is less common than one might believe.


And it appears that many people went to graduate school so they could teach, and see research as something they have to get through so as to keep on teaching. It appears that they knew this was the reality in most of academia. It appears that I did not, although I was expected to know it almost naturally, being a girl.

This, then, would be my advice to advanced graduate students: figure out whether your aim really is to be a research professional. If it is, look for a research job, whether it is an academic one or not.


I think many of us were forced into academia because our graduate programs left us no time to think, and accustomed us to accepting whatever position we could get for the next semester or the next year because we wanted to eat.

I do not mind teaching at all, but I am even less willing to sacrifice a research culture for the sake of being able to teach, than I am willing to submit to a suburban or rural life for that reason.

The willingness to say so is the difference between myself and more professors than I would have expected.


7 thoughts on “Academic Mondays: Research Culture II

  1. Yes. And a big part of the research culture is having good contacts. When in Portland, I had the kind of contacts I needed and was able to get pretty far, although I gave up on the Doctorate, which would have meant re-locating to Seattle or Eugene. I was 52 by the time I got to that point, too old, I figured at the time (silly of me, I now realize, but I did not know how well I would do as an older person and underestimated my abilities and stamina). I still regret not going to Munich to research in the archives on the subject of government during the Third Reich. What a chance to blow! (My decision, I’m not whining, honest.)
    Now, in Hawaii, very out of the way, the Internet and my blog and blog contacts are lifelines, but it’s not the same at all as being in the center of things.
    You are still very young for research stuff. And you’ve got the creds and experience! Lucky you.

  2. Research culture—I think it’s the holy grail. Let me know when you find it. I went to the best graduate school in my field. I never found anyone to talk to. I lived in New York, Paris, Berlin. I never found anyone to talk to. I’ve traveled all over the country. There’s no one to talk to. I talk to everyone. Sometimes people have a little bit of a clue. Mostly not.

    My research culture is reading. Smart people write. If you read enough, you’ll have enough to think about. I also write to everyone. Some people ignore me; some steal my ideas; some actually have ideas of their own.

    There’s no center. You can’t get there. There are lots and lots of interesting people doing interesting things. Most of them are doing it alone. Ideas don’t come from contact; they come from work and thought. There’s no free lunch. I wish it weren’t so. Then again, I don’t need to be anywhere.

  3. Holy Grail, I think you have a point, and no center, I think that’s a good point, too. But if it’s a question of people to talk to, there are many in most places, I find!

    I think this interlocutor is referring to something else, or a dynamic other than center and margins. Too many impediments = checkmate, something like this, and the flip side, a minimum of necessary elements.

    Something people often put in the prefaces of their books is that they didn’t do it alone. I always find those prefaces distressing because the more familiar idea that one should, and should be able to, is more comforting. If you couldn’t do that all by yourself, I tend to think, then how can I? I would much rather believe your version of things, but this interlocutor has made me think.

  4. AHA — one *more* person has said it’s hard to write here, especially in summer! No resources, impoverished environment, too much traffic, busy and hot! Should we *really* be able to do anything, anyhow, anywhere? NO. I have discussed this amply in the past and felt self indulgent about it but now self respecting people are saying it is true.

  5. I’ve put my finger on what my friend is talking about and it is something I knew years ago, before I tried to go into denial on needs. One needs not just library, but conferences and symposia that are on your campus and that you did not sacrifice your own research time to organize almost solo, more courses in field and fewer courses out, everybody less harried with other things so that you all feel the work vibe and not the interruption vibe.

    There is one thing “contacts” do provide and that is opportunity, which cannot be discounted.

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