Finding your academic passion (again)

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Finding your academic passion (again)

The first year of lecturing can be confusing; the tenth can be mind-numbing. What makes every year worthwhile is retaining your passion for your field of study. Summer is the perfect time to remind yourself why you do it.

It’s not as though any academic has the summer off, but there is a chance to take advantage of a less hectic teaching schedule to revitalise. It’s all too easy for summer to turn into a grind of administrative meetings, writing research bids and completing projects, though, and then before you know it the autumn term is upon you. The solution is to schedule time and activities that take you outside of the usual routine, things that take you back to the source of your interests.

Summer reading

What books and research papers are hot in your field right now? Choose just two or three, and make sure they are on topics that are not retreading old ground. New theories, new methodologies, studies that are being tagged as “groundbreaking” by your peers—that’s the right stuff.

A biography or memoir of an academic or pioneer in your field whose work you admire is also a great choice. These books often highlight the hard work but also the rewards along the way, and offer realistic inspiration to those who may be flagging in their determination.

Another possibility is joining or starting a reading group with colleagues and/or postgraduate students. When reading is a collaborative rather than solitary act, it’s more likely that you’ll feel involved and activated by the text.

Back to school

Returning to study may have less appeal when you’re usually on the other side of the lecture hall, but it can actually be a fantastic step. Check out the options offered by MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at top universities—perhaps one that’s taught by a leading light in your field, or an area of study that you’ve always quite fancied but never had time to follow.

If you have been considering ways to make your teaching or research more interdisciplinary, a short course or online learning programme can help you gain the vocabulary and theoretical basis that you need to make it a success.

Get out in the field

Whether you spend most of your non-teaching time in a laboratory or an office, it may have been awhile since you’ve gone to the places where your area of study is practiced. Make appointments to visit industry contacts over the summer to see how workplaces and practices are changing. If your subject is focused more on history or language, visits to sites, museums, archives, or abroad can focus the mind and generate new ideas.

While you’re there, make time to talk to practitioners about their work. What new challenges are they facing? What developments are bubbling up from below? What would they really like to see academics exploring? The answers to these questions can give you all the impetus you need to return to work with a renewed sense of purpose.

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