Since I made a significant change in my dissertation a few months back, this question has become more complicated for me. I’ve usually tried, and mostly succeeded, in limiting the amount of academic work I do on evenings and weekends, and I’ve found this separation is crucial for my broader health as a graduate student and a person. But my previous research project was largely separated from my other life activities. It was mostly fairly easy to distinguish my study of abstract feminist theory and my volunteer advocacy activities.
Now I’m studying the politics of growth management in the Region of Waterloo. But outside of that, I do community work on transit and smart growth in the area. And to top it off, this year I’m managing my husband’s re-election campaign.
So there are days like Thursday. I spent less than two hours in the morning revising my dissertation proposal and reading about research methods. But I went to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Region of Waterloo’s light rail transit project, where federal, provincial, and local leaders talked about how the ION will help us reshape growth and limit urban sprawl. I went to a barbeque in our building, where one of our neighbours told me and Jeff about how our city has changed since she moved here decades ago. And I went to a party for a friend who defended his dissertation that day, where I saw a number of friends who work on environmental activism and change; they asked me about how things are progressing with Smart Growth Waterloo Region, and we talked about what we need to do to get two-way-all-day GO Transit service between Waterloo and Toronto.
These days, I find many of my theoretical and otherwise academic insights come not when I’m sitting in front of a computer or reading a book. They come when I’m listening to a colleague speak at a meeting, or between doors when we’re out in a neighbourhood speaking with voters and dropping off brochures.
In this context, do I “work on weekends”? Yes and no. I can certainly distinguish between making progress on specific academic tasks, like a conference paper or my dissertation proposal, and the more informal contributions to my work that come from my other activities. But the lines between scholarly and non-scholarly time are increasingly indistinguishable. Right now, I’m finding that to be tremendously creatively productive, but I don’t know how sustainable I’ll find it in the long term.
For me, this raises questions about how we see scholarly life, particularly for those of us who are lucky enough to combine scholarship and practice in broader community contexts. What does it mean to see so much in our research, and our research in so much? I suspect that this kind of combination makes for richer scholarship, at least for some of us. Only time will tell whether I find it makes my life as a person richer, too.
So far, I feel whole as a scholar and a person for the first time in a long time. It turns out, as I’d said before, that I need what I study to connect with what I do in my community. I’m not yet sure what this means for how I balance my work and the rest of my life. Making sure I preserve time and space for actively not working will, I suspect, be an ongoing challenge. I’ll keep you posted.