I have been writing like a madwoman for the last three weeks, trying to meet two self imposed deadlines that have given me several migraine headaches and carpal tunnel pain shooting up my right arm. I gave myself these deadlines because I am seeking tenure at my university. And let's face it, deadlines make me more productive.
One of these two projects arose out of a conversation about some data that a colleague and I had collected this spring. A few days before our talk, an editor of a journal had solicited an article from him. In the academic publishing world, editorial solicitation is known as a "lay-up," the fast track around months of grueling writing, revising, and rejection. When one is on the tenure track where publications matter, lay-ups are much appreciated.
So my colleague and I decided to go for it and to draft an article from nothing into something worthy in less than a month. Our task was complicated by two factors: (1) I had a grant proposal due the same day as the article, and (2) my co-author was leaving for Europe to spend his summer "vacation" teaching abroad. (Despite popular opinion, in higher ed, as in public school teaching, we rarely get a summer vacation.) Thank goodness for modern technologies, namely Skype, Google Docs, and Dropbox, that have allowed us to craft this article together. (By the way, I added the links because in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson suggests that real blogging links to outside resources.)
During one of our Skype conversations, as we compared hectic schedules and made plans for continuing our work, I joked with my co-author that my life would settle down, hopefully, in 2014, when I had proven myself worthy and indispensable. I was referencing, of course, my tenure year, and I repeated the joke to my husband, who happened to walk in the house as I was signing off of Skype. My husband nodded, sympathetically but not with empathy, and as he smiled at me, I realized that in my world of mom, I had already proven myself. I am both worthy and indispensable. My ah-ha moment lifted my spirits, and I began to think about A, my colleague at another university, who also happens to be a mom on the tenure track.
In the middle of my three-week writing binge, I stepped away from my desktop to attend a conference. At this conference, I saw A, had several great conversations with her, and planned a future collaboration. During one of our discussions, A gave me reason to pause. Unlike me, who sees publications as lines on the CV that will move me to tenure, A said that she thinks about "who is going to read it." She cares whether her work will make a difference to someone's own research or practice.
I realized that I too care whether my work will make a difference, and I choose projects that I find valuable. I do not want to be the academic who publishes just for the sake of publishing. Yet with my indispensable role of mom, it is difficult to find the time to write and revise worthy pieces and to find the appropriate outlet for that work, a publication that will affect others in their research or practice. I know that I must publish to achieve my career goals, and so my struggle, I think, is about balancing life on the tenure track with life at home. A seems to have figured this balance out. I hope that it doesn't take until 2014 for me to think about "who is going to read it" when I write for publication.