I feel like I’ve come a long way in the last year; written papers, applied for grants, read more, directed a course, improved my modules, created new ones, reflected a lot on my teaching – all the stuff a Proper Academic is supposed to do. And while there’s still plenty of ways in which I still have things to learn, I feel like there are lots of areas in which I feel I’ve understood the basics, oriented myself and got the lay of the land.
So be a bit braver is my first resolution. In many ways I now have a comfort zone I can go outside; two or three years ago that probably wasn’t the case! It’s necessary to have a little base camp to return to sometimes, or you freeze to death. It’s nice to feel I have something like that. But now isn’t the time to sit around eating beans over an open fire and belching. Not being afraid to fail is the flip side of this. After all, it would be silly to be afraid of something I appear to be so good at.
Using reading as a source of inspiration is my next resolution. A lot of academic writing is terrible, especially with the way that academic papers are incentivised to do a set of things unrelated to clear communication†. In 2013, I started transforming reading from a chore to a reflex. In 2014, I want to make it a pleasure. While I doubt I’ll ever do that with the intricacies of module proposal paperwork, I’d like to do the same for other aspects of my work. I’m a fan of the maxim that “every action is an opportunity for creativity“, but it takes a lot of energy to live up to that. It’s good enough, I think, to pick a few of those opportunities and make the most of them.
TEDx LSE (in March 2013) was an interesting event for me to take part in; and the theme I kept seeing was “connections”: whether in Helen Arney’s “use everything” – take everything you do and put it in the pot, or Ellie Saltmarshe’s talk in praise of the generalist. I’d like to form and continue to find new connections, whether it’s overlapping teaching and research, working with external partners on student projects or running new projects over the course of my public engagement fellowship. And make sure there are fun, creative things happening outside of my academic life. A lot of these things work their way into making me a better academic one way or another, and certainly contribute to my being a better and happier human being.
On the subject of connections, I like collaboration; in the last year, I’ve had the chance to collaborate on exciting work with people I like, respect and trust – academia has given me the privilege of doing that, and I’d like more, please. Taking more risks is easier when there are people to catch you, and be caught by you. I’d like to read more by people I don’t agree with*, I’d like to find time to blog more regularly, because it helps me to organise my thoughts about things I’ve read, and incentivise setting aside time for proper critical and comparative reading and reflection.
And that’s it. Doubt I’ll get all that done by next January. If you’d like to tweet me yours, I’m @sociablephysics.
†oh, was it REF year? I hadn’t noticed.
*partly for the very specific reason that I want to write about the vision of architecture in The Fountainhead and how that relates to a normal person’s conception of the built environment