Percolation, Fermentation, Rumination – or the Importance of Time and Patience in Research

The greatest gift bestowed on me by receiving a Fulbright Research Fellowship has been the gift of time. I have had time – time to read, time to talk with people, time to think – without the pressure of immediately having to turn every thought into publication. From the time we are graduate students, we are often conducting research on the run. Get the dissertation proposed, approved, collect the data, write, defend. Meanwhile, publish all you can. Once you get a job, start cranking out the publications so you can get tenure. Keep the ideas coming – and as soon as they emerge turn them into publications. This experience is not unique to me, and, even though the pace is sometimes relentless, the scholarship is often strong. I am continually impressed by what the graduate students I work with can produce within the time constraints of their dissertations.

Still, there are times when it has felt as if I was building a bicycle while trying to ride it downhill. Then, last fall, when I knew I had the Fulbright coming up, I said “no” to a couple of invitations to contribute articles. I was lucky to be in a position to be able to do that (even luckier to have a Fulbright, I know). But clearing away any deadlines for the spring, was the smartest thing I have done in a long time. Rather than spend the spring writing furiously to meet the next deadline, and reading for plunder in order to glean enough of what I need to support my ideas, I have had time to read broadly, enter research sites without the pressure of deadlines, and think.

One of the great benefits of time is emergence of patience. When I didn’t have a publication deadline looming over me, I could go to the research sites where I was working without feeling as if I had the gather-good-data-today clock  constantly ticking in the background. Instead, I could be patient and let insights and observations emerge at their own pace. The result was that I had more time for surprise, more time for a deeper set of insights, and a greater willingness to strike off in new directions of reading and thinking without worrying about an immediate payoff. Patience, exploration, and time have been the true gifts of this Fulbright and I am deeply grateful for all of them. I wish all of my friends and students could experience this kind of time to explore and I hope I can find more ways to facilitate this for my colleagues and students.

More to come soon on some of the projects that have come out of this (though, as I am about getting ready to try to pack up and move back, “soon” is a fuzzy term……)

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