Saturday, November 19, 2011

The next big thing

I've been going non-stop ever since I got to The Annual Meetings Hosted by AAR & SBL (their official tightrope walking title between the former "joint meetings" model and the less-integrated "concurrent meetings" model). My meetings started only an hour or so after I checked in, and didn't stop except for sleep and an early-morning workout until 2:30 pm today. Even my meals were meetings; an egg salad sandwich I wolfed down before my last two meetings today was the first food I'd eaten since arriving that wasn't connected with some work that needed to be done or some people I needed to meet with.

But I've finally reached the point where I have some breathing room. And with time to stop and reflect, I can recognize how much all that activity has accomplished. On the recommendation of the finance committee, which I chair, the board of directors voted to move forward with a socially responsible investing program. I presented my research on the annual meeting program, for only the second time in a competitive format (I've been on the program on other occasions as an invited participant). And the positive notices for that research presentation included interest from a publisher.

At this point in my career, I'm thinking a lot about what I want to do with the next few years. Because I'm on an administrative track, I can't sustain a research program indefinitely; administrative duties will take over that work time if I continue to move in that direction. So the research that I'm doing now is probably my last chance to make a scholarly contribution to my field in a sustained way.

If an agreement with a publisher comes about, if this research is validated in that way, then I will be making a plan to bring it off and put it to bed. Even though I'm at the beginning stages of the research now, and have much to learn to be able to accomplish what needs to be done, I'm thinking about it in terms of an end. Imagining the final deliverable as a book manuscript means that there would be a last chapter and a concluded process.

That would be fitting and satisfying. I'm surprised that I'm possibly on that path already; I've been proceeding with the thought that I'd need to get farther before searching for publishing partners. But that's troubling in the career sense, because I don't want this project to grow without guidance and possibly spiral unproductively -- or to succumb to the kind of perfectionism I see in my students sometimes, where if you don't finish things because they're never good enough to satisfy you, you never have to face anyone's judgment, including your own. You can pretend forever that it will be great once it's done. I've never been that way; it's why I've been able to get a lot accomplished in my career so far. I don't want to start now.

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