Monday, April 28, 2014

The Academic Juggle: Hallows or Horcruxes

Every day, entering the office, I face the question of whether to write papers or grant proposals amidst the flood of other tasks. Yes, we all have to deal with managing time lines. But the question is akin to the one that Harry Potter faced when trying to decide between chasing after horcruxes or hallows. The horcruxes represent the immediate problem. The hallows offer the possibility of solving this and any other problem. In the fictional case, the hallows are also the temptation to become evil. Focusing on them would likely be done at the expense of ridding the world of the latest evil, Voldemort, and would also lead Harry to become evil. This is the Faustian bargain revisited. Like Goethe before us, let's remove the unfair rule that one isn't dammed just for playing. The question then centers on how we should balance our time on the short-term versus the long-term. That is, without papers, you won't earn the next grant, but if you never write grants, then you won't have funds to do the research that you will document in your next journal article.

Some researchers love to write articles because it is part of their process to do the research, diving deeply into the details that you have to get 100% right or else the logic of the paper falls. Some researchers love to write grants because they enjoy thinking about the possibilities that have yet to be explored without having to worry about the details that might muck it up. Still others enjoy neither because they dislike the toil of writing let alone the fact that it takes you away from actually doing the research. Or perhaps you prefer to do something else entirely, like writing blog posts? Regardless, you have to choose between hallows or horcruxes, not just the one time as Harry did, but every day.  It is the daily need to make a conscious choice over the prioritization of articles, grants, and everything else that makes being an academic researcher both challenging and exciting. We're not Harry Potter. We don't have a wand. We can't make (unexplainable) magic. We don't have the glasses. O.k., maybe we do have the glasses. But we do get to choose our own adventure as we as advance the limits of our understanding.