The Academic Life (or, How to Think Thoughts Professionally)

We’ve now been in Klaipėda for seventeen days. The first week was spent getting settled into our on-campus apartment and familiarizing ourselves with the city. We also made quite a few sight-seeing trips into town with my mom, who left last Friday for an excursion to Denmark and Germany before returning to San Diego.

Though I had meetings last week, this week has felt more “academic”: meetings, syllabi, finalizing course outlines, etc. Suddenly, in this week between “getting settled” and “oh-my-goodness-students-are-here,” I am faced with a strange new challenge: how to structure my day as “a professional thinker”?

Up until this point in my life, the academic pieces–reading for general knowledge, class preparation, research and writing–have fit in around the larger, immovable blocks of my life–primarily, a 7.5-hour workday. But now, instead of only having 12:00-1:00 and 3:30-5:30 to work on these things, I have 7:00-whenever! I have been hit with an avalanche of “free time,” and it’s hard to know how best to use it all.

As I wrote a few years ago, I’m not entirely convinced that I can do more with a 5-hour bloc of research time than with a 2-hour bloc. So I’m working on parceling out my work into 2-hour chunks, around lunch and meetings. Starting next week, I’ll have classes to work around as well. But therein lies another difficulty: How can I know when I’m completely prepared for a class? The only classes I’ve taught up to this point have been compressed, so the attention of both student and teacher is undiverted by other courses. In those contexts, the boundary on class prep is very easy to see: the bell rings, and it’s time to teach–whatever you’ve got. Here, I could literally spend hours and hours on each class hour, and still not feel “ready.” For now, I’m convinced that I will never feel completely ready for any class, so I just decide on a stopping point. I’ll let you know next Friday how that goes.

There are three other pieces that fit into this time: reading for general knowledge, non-class academic projects, and support-raising (including keeping in contact with current supporters). Each of these are accounted for in my overall time allotment (I think), but when to do them? Which ones will tend to squeeze the others out if priorities and boundaries aren’t set? Right now, the only external boundaries I have are a deadline for a book review to be submitted to a journal. But just beyond the horizon I know there will be paper proposals for 2015 conferences, and emails/calls to pastors and missions committees about 2015 church budgets.

With these worthy and important responsibilities competing for my attention, it’s easy for me to feel guilty about those pieces that seem more self-interested. “How,” I ask myself, “can I be worrying about my own bank account and CV, when I could be preparing to teach students?” Yet I know that the generous support of individuals and churches back home is what allows me to stay here–if there’s no money, there’s no teaching. The sorts of research and reading that make me a well-rounded teacher will also enable me to keep my position here at the university in the long term, which is good for students and for the university (I flatter myself).

So, where do I find that balance? My dep’t chair and my colleagues will no doubt be a tremendous service to me in this respect. The chair has already emphasized to me several times that support-raising, research, and family life (another important piece) all need to have their significant places in my schedule, and time is allocated for them.

But the most important thing is my own attitude and focus. These two texts stood out to me this week:

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4)

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain. (Ps 127:1)

The test of my attitude is: Am I adding this brick to the edifice (note the overlapping etymologies of “edifice” and “education”) of my life to make a name for myself, or am I doing it to make the name of Jesus Christ known in all the world?

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
This entry was posted in Giffones in Lithuania, Research. Bookmark the permalink.

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