(on not being) the quiet scribe

Previously on this show…

Much like my favourite app, I am more a no-update person, it seems. And while Mr. Bitar of Standard Notes has a user on Slack telling him to give him more updates, mine is a silent and more creepy existence. I sit late nights at my desk and I read and write things. I wish there were a more urgent tone to things. Perhaps the toughest thing in research, much like writing, is the self-discipline of someone in a situation like mine; my programme is an extremely open and good environment for work. There is ostensibly no-one who emails me every week and tells me that time is ticking. And yet there is something of a monastic/ascetic style rigour that comes to time when we begin this journey. I do not go out nearly as much as I did before (the amount of socialising one does through university is inversely proportional to the time one has spent in academia). I definitely do not have time and carry around a Moleskine calendar to note down things. So let’s talk about time and work, or how I deal (rather inadequately) with it in my own work.

Three cues to finding academic moksh

While this all seems like hog-wash, there is ample evidence there is a need for researchers to learn how to expend their time (or did you think all academics are just eccentric?). One does not have to be a productivity maven to gauge this; there is more to it. There is, of course, a need to become more productive with the time one is being paid for. But there is also a need to teach young professionals, especially researchers who are deciding their own schedules, that they should close the lid of that laptop and go take a walk; or better yet, take a swim, take a day off to go see the doctor and the dentist. There is a need to inculcate a routine towards work that is not a slavish drive to perishing with a doctorate degree. That they ought to think more than the next meeting they are reading an agenda for. Perhaps some of it also personal responsibility but it is also something that can be practised, taught, and nudged towards. If the magic word is “time management”, three things come to mind:

Find time to read: so much time is lost in the emails we write, in the emails we don’t write (and leave in the Drafts pile like the pak choi I bought for a salad and never used), in the administrative slush that is academia that it becomes important to take a step back. And maybe that is not reading for most people, but finding a book to read does wonders for reclaiming time for me. In a world where the phone distracts me without a sound, it is finding readings that still calms me down. That is the one thing that still shrinks time.

Don’t write that mail just yet: I feel like a lot of us are essentially jumping from one email to another. Emails to professors, collaborators, friends, etc. deserve more time than a Whatsapp ping. It has really helped me to put in an hour to write mails first thing in the morning. And unless I am actively going to hamper something by not writing immediately, I simply flag the mail and leave it for later. It works.

Archive, archive, archive: I was attending a fabulous workshop on academic practices by Kyoo Lee last October when she mentioned something very surprising. Archive your own work. It sounds so simple! But it is amusing that no one has ever pointed out to me how important that is. Archive everything, dear researcher. From your notes to always going back to them. The more I go into my work, the more I find myself writing from and to myself. You are building your own database and leave more room for your future self to find connections and readings that would be impossible should you not facilitate it right now.

And finally…

Because if you are reading this, you are either someone who I know from university or someone who knows someone who might like this, here is a postdoc call from the RTG Minor Cosmopolitanisms.


Here is hoping for a more productive 2020. I am definitely going to the GAPS conference in Frankfurt and there is one more possibility late in August. Awkward hellos from a nerd who likes your papers, here we go! And because I am a quiet and creepy scribe, I am going to offer this greeting at the end of February.


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