30 March 2020

Notes from a pandemic: Scholarship stoppages

Among academics, there is a particular anxiety about being stuck at home. It’s a touchy subject. Productivity and overwork is always a sore spot in academia.

A lot of people are saying, “Academics’ cult-like worship of productivity is insane. It’s unreasonable to expect to be productive in a global crisis.”

And some people are pushing back, saying, “I need routine and work helps take my mind off that we are in the middle of a global crisis. Leave me alone.”

Whatever people’s personal feelings about continuing to do academic work, a lot of people are asking, “What is my university’s expectations about research?”

A couple of administrators and some scientists have basically said, “Keep getting data so we can keep papers and grants coming.” There’s a real worry about how this compromises social distancing and the safety of researcher. And it’s probably stressful for a lot of people to be told, “Keep working like nothing has changed.”

Most institutions have said that the fact that this has been a “pandemic year” will be taken into consideration at annual review time.

Some institutions have said they are going to “stop the clock” for tenure, which relieves some people but scares others. A year delay in review means a year delay in promotion and the raise usually associated with tenure.

Graph of faculty salaries in Texas. Professors $119,080, associate professors $89,782, assistant professors $81,250.

Looking at data from Texas, the average salary increase between assistant and associate professor is over $8,500. Because that baseline is often used for various kinds of salary adjustments, the hit to someone lifetime earnings is much more than $8,500 for that one year.

I bring all this up because I encountered an unexpected obstacle to continuing with my academic scholarship. I have a project where I have all the data. I am starting to write up a manuscript about it. so I need to read the prior work. I find a book that looks highly relevant to the topic, and my library has it on the shelves. Excellent.

That’s when I discover the library isn’t lending out its books.

And even though the library is nominally open, the stacks are closed, so I can’t even go in and read the volume in the library itself.

That’s a little obstacle I should have expected to writing up articles, but didn’t.

There are going to be tons of obstacles, large and small, even for someone like me, who is not particularly affected by social distancing measures and working from home.

1 comment:

Caitlyn said...

What are your thoughts about instead of adding time to the tenure clock they ease up on expectations? I have heard various opinions/debates about that on Twitter with the biggest argument, which you touched on, was the difference in pay. Should it really cost people a salary increase for another year? I am only at the grad student step of my career so I'm kind of sitting out with my opinion but it's definitely interesting.