post conference follow up

So it's now one week since I returned from my wonderful conference weekend. I knew coming back here that the biggest challenge for me would be to maintain the level of intellectual excitement that I generated during the conference, especially once I was back in the day-to-day maelstrom of teaching, administrivia, and household responsibilities.

So, how did I do? or what did I do?
  1. I had 2 or 3 conversations with close friends where I reported on the conference and the support I received for my new research projects. Although this might just seem like me talking on the phone, it was actually useful to codify & clarify some of the experiences of the conference trip, and to explain my research ideas to people not in my field.
  2. I made a decision to commit the effort and money to try and attend conferences more regularly again -- something I had to give up over the past couple of years as I was heading into the tenure vote (and trying to pay down my debt). The money thing is especially troubling, since I'm trying to control our household finances and my U has extremely limited support for conference travel. But one of the big lessons of the past two weeks for me was that I really need much more intellectual stimulus than I get from my immediate environment. Conferences and research trips where I will be able to interact with people working on similar topics could be really important in keeping my momentum going. (Also important in easing my tendency towards depression, which has a strong overlap with a boredom-resistance pattern.)
  3. I did some initial bibliography searches and began jotting down some general procedural notes for projects A & B.
  4. I drafted some correspondence to Eminent Scholars related project A -- correspondence that makes me nervous but is necessary before I get too deeply embroiled in something that someone else might have already staked out.
  5. Began planning my graduate course for next term to fit along with my research for project B.
  6. I felt happier and more energetic. I thought about my research almost daily, even if I wasn't actually accomplishing a particular task. I felt more engaged than I have in a long while.
So, I guess I'd give myself about a C for the week if I were grading this. Which sounds more negative than I actually feel. But I had hoped to accomplish more in the past seven days than I actually did. What else did I do?
  • caught up after a two-week sleep deficit
  • read for, prepared, and taught last week's classes
  • attended six 1-2 hour meetings
  • caught up on basic administrative duties
  • planned an event involving five speakers
  • participated in a campus-wide panel event
  • graded student work
  • planned future assignments
  • read for, prepared this week's classes
  • dealt with the computer problem that ate my weekend (I blame this as the main thing that sapped my productivity)
  • shook off an unpleasant cold/virus thing
  • saw two movies
  • errands, chores, dogwalks, life maintenance
Maybe I should check in with myself every Tuesday and see how I continue to fare as the semester hits midterm crunch and the long slump towards December. It feels crucial to my mental health (not just to my professional career) for me to stay/get involved in research again. But it's really hard to do in my current institutional environment, where research is given lip service but little material support. And unfortunately, because of various life circumstances, I'm not able to easily fund my research out of my own pocket.

My time at the conference (at a major research U, with an excellent library) reminded me of the pleasures of intellectual inquiry, the enjoyment I used to feel in the process of research. That's much harder to tap into when the resources aren't available. I'm not sure I'd be cut out for life at the top ranks of my field -- I believe in the kind of teaching I'm doing at Large Urban U, and would have a hard time teaching in a rareified atmosphere of privilege. But I wish that my social mission, expressed through my teaching, didn't seem to be at cross-purposes with my intellectual growth.