Monday, 9 November 2015

Academic productivity

We're currently revising the tenure and promotion (T&P) criteria in my department, which has led me to ponder what it means to be a productive academic. On the one hand, I agree with some aspects of the calls being made for so-called "slow scholarship", like this recent one by a number of Canadian and American feminist geographers. On the other hand, I think its important (actually critically important) for academics to be writing as much as we can; maybe we need "fast and furious scholarship" as much as the slow kind. This is for two basic reasons: (1) we learn by doing, so the more we write the better we get at it - and this is vital for emerging scholars; and (2) if we do not write we cannot engage in debate, so we miss the opportunity to influence current and urgent discussions if we are not able to write fast. Consequently, I think it's important to do both slow and fast scholarship, and I'm guessing that's what most of us do anyway ...

On this last point, this is the reason I don't have a problem with T&P criteria that stipulate quantities of books, articles and book chapters as guides to 'excellence' or otherwise. It's helpful to have transparent guidelines of what is expected of us in our jobs. Moreover, in my mind, setting the standard at a reasonable level does not, by definition, necessarily mean we are succumbing to some sort of 'neoliberalized' university management or betrayal of the university, as long as we control that standard.

The reason I raise academic productivity as an issue is that I've noticed how much more productive I've been since moving to Canada from the UK. Maybe it's because I'm entering (or am already in) my mid-career stage, but I've found I have been able to do more over here despite generally having far more teaching than in the UK. Part of the reason for this is that my teaching in Canada is mainly contact teaching hours (i.e. two 12-week terms @ 5-8 hours per week contact time), while in the UK there is a considerable administrative load outside of actual facetime that whittles away at research time (e.g. double marking, exam boards, etc., etc.).

So, I did some basic maths to understand why ...
  • My time is split 40% (research), 40% (teaching) and 20% (service);
  • So, I owe 1 day a week all year to service (which is one reason why we should all be in work at least one day a week);
  • I then have 4-week annual leave;
  • I'm left with 48 weeks, half of which is termtime and the other is non-termtime;
  • If I assume I teach only in termtime and research in non-termtime, then that's my 40% for teaching and research;
  • Consequently, I get 24 weeks a year to do research; or, 96 full days.
  • To me, coming from a UK context, that is fantastic, no matter that I have higher teaching contact hours;
  • With 96 full research days, I can carry out actual research (e.g. interviews, stats analysis) and write it up each year (or last year's research more like);
  • To me, that's a phenomenal amount of time - if I wrote at my usual rate for even half that time I would be able to produce a hefty book each year.
Anyway, I intend to write more fully about some of these issues in a response to the "slow scholarship" paper I mentioned above ... if I find the time to get to that, of course!


  1. Kean,

    This is quite interesting. I just did the numbers for myself and according to my contract my teaching load accounts for about 48% of my time and my service & professional participation for about 29% of my time. This leaves 23% of my time for research. The percentages relate to the weight each category is given during the P&T review process. I have a 10 month contract at a US based university which translates to my paid days doing research of about 48 days (+/- depending on holidays). I believe that this limited amount of time while in the promotion and tenure process makes the idea of slow scholarship impractical. I just won't have the time for slow research. The bigger issue is an expectation by my university (administration as well as colleagues), that I will work on research during my unpaid 2 months of the year.

    Just food for thought.



    1. Thanks Patrick, I think US academics have it tougher in this regard because of the 9 or 10 month contract system. I'm guessing you're expected to find money for the other 2-3 months from grants and use that to do the research, but presumably not everyone is successful at getting grants to cover those costs.

      I've got to go back and read the "slow scholarship" article again - in ACME - before I think more about this issue, but I agree that it's not practical at the start of an academic career.