Tight turnaround times for staggering towers of essays. Fixed minimum numbers of publications per REF cycle. And while you’re at it, make sure your work has measurable impact on non-academic audiences and engages with stakeholders outside of academia.
Thoughtful, detailed, constructive feedback takes time. Reading your students’ work in a way that honours their efforts takes time. It takes time making sure you’re not confusing the essay you’re reading with one of the dozens of others you’ve had to work through in the last twenty-four hours in order to return them by the deadline stipulated by your university.
And it takes time to get to know your students, to know you can put the right face to the right name and remember the circumstances that may have impacted on their recent decline in academic performance or uncharacteristic silence. It takes time to see them and to make sure you’re able to have meaningful conversations with them about their work and anything that might be preventing them from being at their best.
Good research takes time. It requires you to read. A lot. It requires you to question constantly your sources, your methods, and your analysis. Even your own thought patterns. It might take weeks or months to think through a problem, theoretical or otherwise. If what we’re doing didn’t take time and wasn’t difficult, we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s the very essence of research.
Good writing takes time. We want to make sure we find the right words, the right structure, the right format, and the right voice to do justice to our research. We debate reviewers’ comments, make adjustments. We consider our intended audiences, we align with publishers’ and journals’ conventions. You may well knock out a few thousand words out in a day or two, perhaps, but without time to revise, rethink, and rework, those words won’t ever reach their real potential.
Good engagement takes time. We build relationships with people and organisations who are interested in and might benefit from our work. We appreciate their time and try our best to make the most of it. Impact and engagement become meaningless if we and our work are in and out of someone’s life within a couple of days.
Time, however, is a privilege in academia. So much so that we “bid” for it. If you possibly can, make sure you take it, and use it wisely. Don’t get frustrated with yourself when something takes time. It’s probably a sign you’re doing it right. But I know all to well the pressure that academics at all career levels are under; from professors who have to generate minimum amounts of grant income per academic year to PhDs and early-career researchers who have to tick as many boxes as they can to avoid having their job applications knocked off the towering piles of CVs and covering letters competing exploitative, temporary, precarious contracts. For many of us, the best we can do is to be strategic so that we can facilitate, preserve, and value slowness in a culture that seems determined to stamp it out.