For a group of people who are supposed to be liberal, it seems to me than academics do an awful lot of things simply because they are supposed to. I won’t rattle off the entire list here; I want to summarize a conversation I had with my advisor about the two requirements that I find the most insane, and open the question to readers, who may or may not be professors: Can you tell me why these things matter?
1. Do you belong to any professional organizations?
No I do not. Last year I paid $30 to be a member of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Since it did not seem to help me get a paper accepted to their annual conference or get a publication in Cinema Journal, I have trouble understanding why I gave them money. My advisor told me I should pick a professional organization and pay my dues, so that I can put it on my vita. Why? Because it shows that you are serious about your scholarship. From him I accepted that, or at least I let the conversation end, but I do not see how membership in something is a measure of my academic seriousness. Am I really expected to pay $30 a year for a line on my vita? It makes no sense to me. My vita is three pages long, and I can explain everything on it. I can tell you much more than the lines as written, and I know why every line is important. If I join some professional film studies club and someone asks me about it in an interview, shouldn’t I have something better to say than: “My advisor told me that membership is a professional organization would show people like you that I’m serious. Apparently the stack of degrees, the teaching experience and the publications don’t do that already.” I am sorry, but I don’t get it.
2. Have you thought about applying for any post doc research grants?
No. I’m not an art historian. I don’t need to go to a cloister somewhere and read a manuscript that is only located there. I don’t need to go to the location of specific bits of architecture to study them. I write about films. My research is watching movies, reading books, thinking about them and taking notes. Why is every corner of academia expected to be a research discipline? My advisor tells me just to come up with some reason to go to Russia. He tells me essentially to appease what he calls the “pedants” in charge of distributing money, so that I can have a trip to Moscow. I know this is something academics often do, but I find it really difficult to play that game. If I can’t think of reason to go to a place and research, I have no knack for bullshitting appeasements for pedants. Just look at this:
My opinion is that, in academia, rather too much emphasis is put upon what is typically called “research.” My goals as a scholar revolve around what seems to me more accurately referred to as “practice.” My scholarship is based on reading, watching, thinking and writing. Those four activities are most important. Only my obsession with particular artists, Tarkovsky for instance, would take me into traditional research areas. I would appreciate the opportunity to travel to film archives to look at different edits or to search out notes for projects and set designs for various films. This kind of research is useful toward understanding the artistic process; it affords one the perspective to consider Tarkovsky’s poetic choices. But I must maintain that such investigative work is secondary to the business of reading, watching, thinking and writing. Therefore, while I would certainly not dismiss the chance to research, I find that the best film scholarship results from repeatedly watching films and puzzling over them.
That is what I sent to Bard College when they asked for a “Research Statement” as part of my application for a film studies position. No, I haven’t heard from them yet.