Thursday, July 11, 2013

Feeling Guilty About Guilt: Guilt II Electric Boogaloo

I have gotten a fair amount of pushback on twitter and facebook for my post earlier today about guilt, and I deserve it.  Indeed, I feel guilty for what I wrote.  Ok, for guilty for how I said it.  Clearly, academics research for many reasons, including the thirst for knowledge, the enjoyment of interviewing/reading/writing/coding (coding? enjoyable? um, hmmm), competition with friends and not-friends, ambition (defined in many ways: to move up, to be influential, to get raises, whatever), and more.  Guilt is not the only motivator or the most important motivator of research, but as most of deadlines are self-inflicted (we go to conferences to set artificial deadlines to get us to get work done), making progress in our thirst for knowledge, in our grant-writing (oy), in our competition, in our ambition often is accompanied by a feeling that we are falling short.  I call this guilt.

For most folks in this business, there are three things we must do--teaching, research, and service.  Most people are probably not equally passionate/thirsty/whatever in all three.  For some, research is the price of doing what one truly loves--teaching.  When I was in grad school, the Designing Political Research class started with the prof asking us what we wanted to do.  Pretty much all of us said: teach at a liberal arts college.  Research would be necessary to get and keep such a job but the focus would be engaging young minds.  Well, most of us did not end up at Oberlin or Dartmouth (ok, one of us ended up at Dartmouth).  Most of us (including the one at Dartmouth) did get turned on to doing research*, and then the job market market sorted us now, mostly sending us to places where research was expected.  Anyhow, this tangent permits the next one: that not only is research something some do so that they can teach, but teaching is something that some people do so that they can do research. 
* The irony is the Dartmouth guy outclassed everyone else in terms of pubs, cites, influence and profile, and is so damned nice and decent that it is hard to hate him.  But his wife and kids are so terrific that, well, it becomes easy to hate him (kidding).
So, for some researchers, teaching is not the passion, but one  works at teaching well because of obligation and guilt (more on obligation vs. guilt below).

Service?  Sure, a few folks grab service obligations with both hands and revel in meetings, reviews, and all the rest, but for most of us, service is an obligation.  But it is an obligation that many folks avoid/evade.  Why do it, as it often gets in the way of teaching/research?  I posited an answer--guilt.  Is guilt the same as obligation?  I owe it to my colleagues to do this stuff, so that I am not a shirker?  That collective action must be provided or else we will all suffer?

Well, I have had plenty of colleagues who reveled in shirking and some who seemed super-human in how much service they would do (JJ, JL, what is it with the J-folk?) compensating for the shirkers.  In most of my career (with an exception for a couple of years at the end of my last job), I have rarely said no.  I tend to say yes to tenure review requests, to journal review requests (unless I am already over-committed or the stuff is out of my area) and so on.  I agreed to supervise a dissertation at Carleton only a couple days after I accepted the job and many months before I moved there.  I was thinking about guilt today in part because I was feeling guilty for saying no--to Carleton undergrads who need supervision for their honor's theses.  Because I am in a school (the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs) that has no undergraduate program, I feel less obligated to serve on such committees ... but I still feel guilty. 

So, I guess my first post should have focused on, in part, when are obligations sufficient to obligate and when does guilt (and/or shame as one FB friend suggested) play a role in getting people to do what they are supposed to do?  If I knew the answer to that, I might be good at doing more service ;)

To be clear, I still think we profs feel guilty much of the time--that we are not doing enough, not being productive enough.  I was trying to think about how productive this guilt can be, although some have said on twitter that guilt makes it harder to write.  Hmmm.  Now I feel guilty for wasting lots of my time and others for not really resolving anything.  

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