In the previous blog, I discussed where I am now in my research, and how I got there. Call this one the “Pay It Forward” blog. It is still a narrative, but I’ve included the lessons I’ve learned.
Once upon a time - in a galaxy far, far away - I thought that my research agenda was going to focus primarily on organizational socialization. My dissertation was all about how Communication Professors deal with their first year of life on the tenure track. That was the plan, but the plan did not work. What happened?
Life. And as the lame saying goes, "Life happens while you are making other plans."
For two years I worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Mizzou teaching a 4-4 load. While teaching there was a great experience - I got to teach some classes that I never thought I would and met some outstanding scholars and teachers (like Rebecca, Debbie & Mitchell) - I found that I was amazingly limited in my time to write and edit. (I also go to live with #bestroomieever!)
In the meantime, thanks to the Great Recession, my dissertation research got usurped, as everyone was writing about how to mentor new professors, how new professors should do their jobs, and how new professors spend their time. Then I found myself unemployed for fifteen months. I wrote about that in I Know I'm Unlovable: Desperation, Despair and Discourse on the Academic Job Hunt.
However, that is not all there is to it either. My interest in organizational socialization waned. I got bored to death of it. And that's a dilemma, because everyone says that you should pick one topic and make that your agenda. What if you pick your one thing, and someone beats you to the punch? What if you pick your one thing and realize that you absolutely hate it? What if you pick your one thing and you cannot get it published? Problematic.
Plus, the auspices of academic publishing are, to put it nicely…completely effing arbitrary.
In fact, moving away from organizational socialization research saved my academic life. One of the things we are supposed to revere is to keep an active life of the mind. Somehow I don't see how publishing on the same topic over and over and over (the agenda) contributes to that. After all, none of us are interested in only one thing. We are all interested in many things. Why shouldn't our research reflect the depth and breadth of our individual personalities and interests?
The point is that being a broad-based researcher and living an interesting life helps prevent academic burnout.
While I was unemployed I continued to write and do research. I did a lot of it because, besides sending out job applications, I had tons of time on my hands. So I took some older research, fixed it up and sent it to journals right around the time I took the position at ETSU. The narrative piece about losing our home to foreclosure hit. The narrative as an organizing process piece hit. The unemployment autoethnograpy hit. My questions and qualms about qualitative inquiry hit. Even the piece I wrote for fun on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was published in a peer reviewed journal called Slayage.
But I had a lot of non-hits too. This isn't something that most academics discuss, but I have files on my computer in a folder called "Dead Shit." This is the research that has gotten nowhere so far and probably isn't going anywhere. Like what? The four submissions based on my dissertation. That's been played out. The piece that attempted to reframe the EVLN through relational dialectics. The piece I wrote about discourse in the information technology occupation. The narrative interview piece with information technology professionals and why they quit their jobs. The piece I wrote about leadership and existentialism. A thing I wrote about the closing of a social networking site.
The point is that you never know what is going to hit and what isn't going to hit
Now, this does not mean they are "dead" dead. Some are currently under review. And that's not to say this writing was useless. It wasn't. In fact I presented almost everything that hit and everything that did not hit as conference presentations before they were (or were not) published. And that's the way I work. I always submit whatever I am working on to conferences, because you never know what's going to happen.
The point is to keep on writing.
What could happen? Take, for example, our book Beyond New Media. That started three years prior as a conversation after a panel amongst Danielle Stern, Adam Tyma, Megan Marie Wood, Art Herbig, and I at CSCA. I was able to take some of what I learned about existential phenomenology and use it in my chapter there.
The point is to keep having conversations.
The year prior, I presented a piece about being an aggravated autoethnographer - the presentation that Bob Bachelor saw - and that became the Criteria Against Ourselves piece. Moreover, it connected me with Bob that led to the Daniel Amos and Me article, and my placement on the Popular Culture Studies Journal editorial board.
The point is to be open to serendipity.
Take another example. I was presenting my piece on the old TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker at CSCA last year, when Art Herbig looked at me and asked, "Do you realize you’ve written the introduction to our book?" Actually, I didn't realize.
Would I have been nearly as prolific if I stuck to what I consider the drudgery of organizational socialization research? I'd venture to guess, probably not. Heck, definitely not. God bless the people who do organizational socialization research. It is very important stuff, but it is not my passion. Never was. Others framed me that way because of my dissertation topic, but I never defined myself as an organizational socialization scholar.
The point is to frame yourself and your research before others do.
I learned that lesson late.
I now call myself an organizational narrative scholar. This designation encompasses macro-, meso, and micro narratives. It allows me to look at the stories within, of, about, and around organizations. It allows me to examine occupational subcultures, personal narratives and identities, for profits and nonprofits, stigma and communion, cultures, discourses, and power. It allows me to look at narratives as a process of organizing on multiple levels and with multiple perspectives. It allows me to look at representations of organizational narratives in pop culture artifacts. And I am very happy with this designation - organizational narrative scholar – even if others think I got sidetracked.
I didn't get sidetracked.
I followed tributaries.
That’s how – here in my fourth year on the tenure track – my name is on a book, a journal special issue, 4 book chapters, and 16 peer reviewed journal articles, with two more articles in press.
And yet, I am not burnt out.
Next week, we’ll talk about another triad of the three stooled mess we call “being a professor.” Teaching. I’ve been on the tenure track for four years, but I’ve taught 14 different classes.
How the hell does that happen?