I strongly advocate entry by researchers into the rhythm of life of communities as a good basis to learn and experience their beliefs, expectations, fears, and perceptions. I am of the opinion that there is need to transform researchers from the prevailing status of “teachers” of society (self-appointed, highly qualified experts with answers to almost every question presented) to empathetic students of communities. In this way, I see a greater opportunity for researcher-students to gain a deeper understanding of the ways and values of the communities they are studying. They will thus have a sound basis on which to claim authority of knowledge about the communities and phenomenon they present as their areas of specialization.
(Alembi, 2002)1Alembi, Ezekiel. (2002). The construction of the Abanyole perceptions on death through oral funeral poetry. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.
This article is based on my personal reflections on the arduous terrains of research, writing and publications, and translating one’s intellectual labor as a PhD candidate, which requires publishing in two peer-reviewed journals while earning the much-coveted title of “Dr.” It is expected that a minimum of two articles will initiate a candidate into the world of academic writing. This matrix, a system of labor and rewards, whose high stakes include writing and publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, eventually feeds into metrics such as Google Scholar, ultimately leading to distinction, prestige, and honor in one’s chosen field of study. I have accepted these requirements as a challenge that requires a firm grasp of the three dimensions in scholarly publishing.
This manifests as confidence, self-belief, creativity, and boldness. This allows my psyche to imagine scholarly works engendered in solid world class scholarly prose and writing. Borne of a process that is all at once vulnerable and often timid, the scholar is expected to express opinions that make contributions to scholarly knowledge in a way that is authoritative, dependable, and sound. Mind you (!), these processes vary from the messy beginnings of thought that show up initially as word vomit on paper—not entirely reassuring—to ramblings on and on as one would be writing to empty what exists in the head. Next step is to engage structure: avoid plagiarizing, avoid vagueness, avoid repetition, confused thinking, even though there is nothing new under the sun. I posit that writing is the way you experience the world from your perspective, your point of view, your lens. This is the source of authenticity.
Rendering academic work is a spectacle that may sometimes involve “self-sabotage,” a curve ball, and deterrent to thinking through phenomena carefully. Reviews, criticisms, and feedback, the ones that can alter consciousness; comments, strike-through, and mark-ups on precious text, may simmer or sting. These constitute a true test of character. In the course of trying to rationalize or debunk, the writer faces the veritable grind, requiring discipline, living in the trenches, the ghetto, stringing words together in a manner that is dictated by convention, or bending personal will to accommodate rules and meet expectations. Much understated are crucial turning points in a process that can unveil an identity crisis. Emotionally, you want to shield your mind and thoughts from fear or disbelief. Academic output against your willpower, angst, and an uncanny ability to doubt. Ironically, you possess and hold requisite knowledge in the field, yet lurking beneath this is daunting self-censure, as you show up afraid and uncertain. Often times, you are paralyzed by deadlines. Equally, it is quite a revelation to meet the self-assured, authoritative, and authentic resourceful scholar who transmits knowledge with depth and ease, prompting you to persist. Yet an internal dialogue ensues: or did they fake it till they made it? An existential crisis emerges, you then gain much needed muscle subverting the unworthy, undeserved thoughts to invalidate scholarship as well as agency maintaining sustained and continued engagement with writing your research.
Outside the researcher’s direct control exists a realm that presents as validation and support (moral and financial). External factors consist of people (supervisors, committees, mentors, places), department, school, faculty, and whoever and whatever weighs in to edit and review research outcomes. Put another way: external dimensions include all external bodies whose contributions influence how scholarly writing is viewed and constructed, whose opinion may be pivotal, decidedly shaping thought to what is to become of the work. Numerous contestations within this realm persist when the researcher confronts certain questions about their production of knowledge: on the basis of whose standards, for which context? Oftentimes, funding may dictate a second look, with the researcher having to broker a compromise. External compliments may contrast with internal limitations. This may appear as an attack on the researcher’s positionality, or, perhaps, as resistance and push back against the researcher’s ideology. Often these contributions affect the researcher’s inner core: self-preservation then follows as a natural response to defend such scholarly work.
Assuredly, the external realm can be an opportunity to establish a community, build connections, even form a research cohort. Beyond being a coping mechanism, mutual benefits include seeking affirmation, resonance, feedback, and wisdom. Dangers may reside here too, as a researcher looking outwardly for validation encounters untimely feedback that can be intrusive, and unbidden can be a snare. The poor timing can unravel potential(ly) promising projects. Often the external realm may take advantage of an early career researchers’ gullibility to further their own scholarship without following established protocol in mentoring and elevating new scholars. Such tactics that have no place for redress and without being exposed can lead to weakness and confusion in the newbie researcher who may then be left indignant and angry, or move on to be wiser, cautious, or just plain afraid. A humbling realization settles in when confirming with comrades to reflect—What just happened? Have I been played? What should I do next? Not being in control of the situation can create awareness that wipes off any naivete on the part of a new researcher. It is a badge of honor to transcend sabotage by predatory external factors, one that you would never wish on anyone’s research progress. Whole papers sit in storage because they are compromised and tainted, and these words cannot make it into the world as their own scholarship. Becoming tainted and weary is retrogressive and undermines a researcher’s progress.
Luck, happenstance, ancestors, being in the right place at the right time. A nonentity, sometimes a devotion: this is the cosmological realm where knowledge manifests from. Being open minded, consider that this domain is a construct of hard-work-meets-opportunity, and when all else fails you go here for respite, inspiration, and hope. I acknowledge that a spiritual factor playing into the process of scholarship may not be the case for every scholar. Alternatively, it can be labeled as ‘luck’—you got ‘lucky’ you got a grant; you are ‘lucky’ your funding came through; it is an extremely competitive award to get; you are ‘lucky’ they chose your proposal; it is a rare thing when that happens —ad nauseum. One can reason that the cosmological dimension is a belief system, a transformative space, accounting for elevation, growth, and opportunities that are un-accounted for by conventional wisdom. Also, possibly borne of desperation, these extraordinary moments are threads, breaks of sunshine and relief, goodness, and affirmation quite separate from the grind.
Do they occur when one believes? Are you wired this way? Is your belief system integrated daily with your writing? Do you experience life in this manner? An enlightened state and orientation that cuts through the day to day, the slog, labor, and routine to advance scholarship. Admittedly, there may be more questions than answers. Introspectively we examine what gets the project to grow, extend to its natural conclusion. In the guise of awards, transform communities, to be cited, be discussed in places, draw attention, and receive praise.
Finally, let us take up space working well and steadily using our intellect. The strength and clarity of our scholarship has real world implications. Our imaginaries, findings, writing, (re)constructions are borne out of everyday experiences and encounters in the community are needed in this world.
- 1Alembi, Ezekiel. (2002). The construction of the Abanyole perceptions on death through oral funeral poetry. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.