Measure for Measure: Academic Success and the Christian scholar

by Anna Blanch on August 5, 2008

What is success? What does it mean to be successful as an academic? The constant drip of “publish or perish” and similar mantras trigger ripples daily in the sea of the academy. It makes sense to be involved in the intellectual conversation – to engage with the latest research and much debated issues – but the pressure can feel almost overwhelming, especially in the early part of one’s career.
In a recent piece by Dorothy Boorse “In Focus: Asking the Right Question” Boorse reflects upon common academic mindsets and expectations. Boorse shares:

One professor declared in a seminar, “In the end, what stands is your publication record. Jobs may come and go, spouses may come and go, but at the end, what you have is your publication record.”

This is a very confronting anecdote, is the academic environment truly this cut-throat? The impetus to publish is omnipresent and the sense that your publication record impacts ones employment prospects pervasive, however, I have never encountered such a depressingly stark assessment even in the midst of publishing encouragement. Boorse’s article explains:

I do not look at scientific productivity as the only measure of success. Rather than asking, “Am I doing everything I thought I would do?” or “Am I doing as much in my field as other people?” I suggest we ask, “Am I contributing to the world?” and “Does my life work?” A Christian can ask, “Am I doing what I think God is calling me to do with my talents and abilities?”

How refreshing is that approach! These questions may seem vague and may not seem as easy to answer than adding an extra couple of lines on a CV but I certainly think they are more important. You can find Boorse’s entire article on The Well, the website of Women in The Academy & The Professions, part of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

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  • Steve

    No comments yet on this one? I must have missed it.

    I don't have much to say on the topic, except that one DLJ insists that what really lasts is a professor's students. And he would know. That's not to say that publications aren't important, but they aren't everything. I would rather have a few scholarly publications that are still being read and discussed 50 years later (like JRRT) than have voluminous publications that are soon dismissed as dull, dated, and irrelevant.

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