(Tuesday Post Category–Strategizing Your Success in Academia)
Last Tuesday I wrote Part 1 of “Using Rage to Stay Motivated,” a Special Request post for Allen. He asked how to stay motivated while writing his thesis. Staying motivated through the long years of work on a thesis or doctoral dissertation is one of the greatest challenges of the academic career. I always think of the thesis writing stage as in some ways the nadir of the process, because you feel at your most vulnerable—is what I’m writing good enough? Will it even be accepted and passed by my committee? You may have many challenges later in your academic career, but rarely will you be operating from such a position of fear.
Last week I wrote about using personal rage to stay motivated. For many of us, rage about our topics gets us up in the mornings and keeps us awake late at nights. It inspires. It energizes. It motivates. And that’s a good thing. If you’re angry about your topic (global warming, cancer, racism, homophobia), use that rage, harness it, channel it and be powerful. Yes, in academia you have to translate rage into scholarly prose. You can’t say “I’m outraged” directly. But believe me, your message comes through loud and clear.
But what about those who do not have personally enraging topics? What if your thesis topic seems neutral, and benign? Two things. First off, not to beat a dead horse, but do take a moment to ask yourself—why are you really, REALLY writing this dissertation? What do you want to prove? Is there a voice in your head that you’re in a battle with? In many academic cases, there is, but it’s unacknowledged. Academics are, as I said last week, a timid lot, generally afraid of high emotion. Make sure you’re giving your emotions their due. You might actually be really angry about something—and far better you KNOW and acknowledge that, then keep it repressed and have it come out in all of the multitude of self-defeating, self-sabotaging ways that angry young academics have to stifle their own voices, creativity and careers.
But let’s assume you did that, and you really aren’t angry about your topic per se, or about any individual connected to your topic. There is still a way to use rage to stay motivated. This is scholarly rage.
Basically, every piece of scholarly work is a hero’s journey. You are the hero. The topic is the field of battle. The dragon is ignorance/misinformation/poor scholarship. And your enemies? The scholars who have misled the populace with their false dogmas.
You must save the day. You must uphold the standard of truth. It falls on your trembling shoulders to right the wrongs of the false scholars and rescue the populace from the dragon of ignorance.
Create the scene–in words, in pictures, in diagrams–of this battlefield. Who are the scholars who have not properly accounted for xxx? Who are the scholars who have neglected xxx? Why did they do so? What were the stakes? Above all, what was their agenda? And what knowledge, what advances, have failed to materialize because the populace has uncritically accepted their views?
Now, how will you save the day?
How have you seen the previously unseen, recognized the previously unrecognized, given visibility to the previously neglected? Why are you doing so? What are the stakes? What is your agenda?
If you really care about your topic— and most of you do or you wouldn’t be engaged in this madness called a doctoral dissertation— this battle is already raging in your head. You just may not have identified it as such. Your power, though, your motivation, lies in bringing it into the open. Be angry that scholars haven’t seen what you see! Be angry that it has fallen to you to reveal the truth about this subject! Be angry that others will resist your claims! Be angry that your advisor doesn’t “get it.”
And then channel that anger into writing. Write more. Write better. If people say to you, “I still don’t get it,” don’t just passive aggressively claim they’ve “missed the point.” Explain your point better! Go back to the drawing board! It’s proof you’re not there yet! It’s your job to make sure people get it. Do the work. Get it done.
We wouldn’t be doing this thing called scholarship if we didn’t believe the stakes are critical. Now get in there and fight for them.