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Summary

If there is one sector of society that should be cultivating deep thought in itself and others, it is academia. Yet the corporatisation of the contemporary university has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency from faculty regardless of the consequences for education and scholarship.

In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber discuss how adopting the principles of the Slow movement in academic life can counter this erosion of humanistic education. Focusing on the individual faculty member and his or her own professional practice, Berg and Seeber present both an analysis of the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality. The Slow Professor will be a must-listen for anyone in academia concerned about the frantic pace of contemporary university life.

©2016 University of Toronto Press (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

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Finding timeless time

I had seen this book on Amazon for some time and had been put off by the title. When I’m working, I like to work fast and efficient, so I get time off with my family to pursue non-work priorities. I’ve just finished an audit of my time over the last 5 weeks and I’m averaging 37 hours a week and feel really happy with my work-life balance. I don’t want to spend hours each week having random chats that go nowhere simply to be collegial, when I can prioritise chats with colleagues who really need my help and really make a difference, and be able to go home at the end of the day feeling like I did good rather than feeling guilty that I didn’t get everything done that I wanted because I indulged in too many coffee breaks.

However, what I love at the heart of The Slow Professor is the shift in focus it promotes from the outputs of research to the process of researching, slowing down enough to appreciate our needs for others. Put this way, slowing down is an ethical choice. It is mindful. It is at this place that The Slow Professor connects fundamentally with my approach to academic life in The Productive Researcher. We need to be more mindful of the motives behind our day-to-day choices, and the power that they have to enable us to produce work we are deeply pleased with. By focussing on our most important priorities, we create a positive feedback loop to our motivation, where producing work that we deeply care about inspires and motivates us, and so gives us the power to make room for more of our most important work.

The other concept at the heart of The Slow Professor is the idea of focusing on “timeless time” - the state of “flow” in which you lose all track of time as you become lost in your work. Timess time leads to creativity, and the process of being creativity immerses you more deeply in timeless time. This focus on the research process rejects the idea of “the knowledge economy” to reconceptualise research as the generation of understandings and insights rather than simply generating new knowledge. It argues that time is a process of becoming; it is “constitutive" - a process of bringing things into being that were not there before, rather than of just doing and producing more. When I am clear on my values, my colleagues become are my priority, and doing the right thing by colleagues often means being inefficient with time to give them the time they need. However this is time I never regret because it feeds into my sense of identity and enacts my deepest values, and so my meeting my priorities in this way I find myself newly motivated. The Slow Professor encourages us to vent our feelings to our colleagues and tells us that “venting is not whining”. Collegiality is more about being there for each emotionally than it is about presentism.

There are however two points of difference between my approach to academic life in The Productive Researcher and The Slow Professor. The first is the implicit disrespect towards professional services staff that pervades The Slow Professor. It perpetuates the idea of faceless “administrators” whose job it is to manage academics, constraining our academic freedom, instrumentalising research and corporatising the academy. The professional services staff I know are far from this stereotype. They care passionately about the research process and the researchers they support. They get their kicks from knowing that they empowered and enabled academics to do their best work. They are inspired by the research and researchers they learn about and help, and feel immense pride in the fact they played even a small role in the endeavours of research teams to make the world a better place. We need to challenge these implicit stereotypes and create a culture of respect in teams of individuals that work together as equals, whether they are academics or professional services staff.

Finally, I found the constant return to the corporatisation of the academy wearing. I have researched this issue myself and agree that Universities are increasingly managed as businesses, but constantly blaming the parts of my job that I don’t like on neoliberal political agendas simply externalises my problems. I do not have the power to fight capitalism, but I do have the power to deal creatively with the parts of my job that I don’t like when I own these as my problems for me to deal with, rather than making them someone else’s fault that someone else should deal with. The “them” and “us” mentality of University managers versus academics is meant to be a call to arms. For me, my lack of self-efficacy in the face of such powers is disempowering, and I prefer to focus on what I can actually change now, in my sphere of influence.

On reflection, I realise that my book, The Productive Research, and the approach that it takes is far from radical. Rather than fixing the systemic challenges of a broken academia, I focus on the individual and how I can transform myself to survive and then thrive within a broken system. We have a different starting point and end point, and yet The Slow Professor and The Productive Researcher share a common heart. Ultimately whether we fix the system or ourselves, we do so by becoming more mindful and compassionate towards ourselves and our colleagues. This empathic common core to both books is the message we all need to hear and learn if we want to make the academy a place where ideas and people thrive.