Planting, harvesting and the stolen time of rest. Can farm life provide a metaphor for academic life? Is the current COVID-tunnel finally creating an occasion for rest and nourishment or did it leave many researchers in even more pressure to perform, in a new virtual world, having to pay the costly interests of time debt? Do you feel the need to find golden productivity before your peers? Our author reflects on the many challenges faced with planting and sowing, nourishing your land, a waiting for your crops to yield results, be it your plants or your ideas.
If you were a farmer, after months of dry weather and heat, or continuous uninterrupted rain, you would know. You would easily see it, the dried land, the leaves eaten alive and consumed by horrible pests, or swollen and colourless, and the harvest, probably poor – to use a euphemism. You would also notice when your land is exhausted, because you asked too much, harvesting the most out of it, to increase production, to sell more, to win over competitors. Maybe you will worry about it, and take care of your land after this, attempt to nourish it – your little jewel – giving it some rest and manure to compensate for what natural calamities or human haste did. Or perhaps, more likely, you will just sell it, buy a new one and start from scratch, to gain more or lose less.
Academic life is draining, it is rainy, and pests are everywhere. After an intense year, of study, teaching and frustration, you will take your research to conferences, attend workshops and summer schools, networking and attempting to show yourself as clever as ever. And if you want to be better – and of course you need to be better, competition is tough – you would not always do this after you have had time to properly prepare the land, seed, prune and harvest at due time, but you will use fertilizers to speed up the process, and greenhouses in order not to lose the precious winter time, and you would not be able to afford to have fallow fields. You will present your papers in December and January, but also in February and March, prepare a podcast in April, and an interview in June, starting again after a week at the sea in July, with conferences in August and early September, to begin a new academic year in October – fresh as a rose. With research results which shine like virtual diamonds, polished and endlessly reshaped, and which have drained your mind more than a desertic wind would. Academic life has become compulsive, rushed and sometimes superficial. The time that is needed for an accurate work, for creativity, for rest, is eaten up by bureaucracy, organization and a compulsive obsession to do and show, and not to lose time. The crises and difficulties of research hidden in a gold rush.
Now, in the Corona crisis, it seemed that we had been gifted with a way out of this. That time had been given back to us. People cannot go out. They must stay home. Media obsessively repeat how bored you get in quarantine – people don’t know what to do with their time – sadly, they feel alone. A psychoanalyst once told me that teenagers need to feel bored and alone to discover what they like and who they are. A P.E. teacher once told me that you need to experience a downfall in your performances to later see an improvement. A farmer once told me that after a day of work in the fields, you are tired. With the corona crisis it seemed to me that the world could stop for a while, could give us the time to rest, finally. To know ourselves. To feed our land. To produce a quality harvest.
But no. As always, I was wrong. Some terrific Time Thieves are out there again, worse than Momo’s, and we won’t escape it, not even this time, not even in the middle of a global pandemic. Everything has moved into the draining dimension of virtual life – tempo speeding up as soon as you are connected, the shades of relationships and feelings lost among the binary numbers of a digital world. Zoom, Teams, Skype or even Facebook, to name a few. After a couple of weeks of disorientation, everything has been re-organized, everything works again, even more efficiently and fast that before. How proud must we be. No one will feel bored again, no one will lose a bit of the world’s precious time.
You think this time you won’t follow them, you will not conform, you have the right to rest, to know yourself a bit better, to work accurately on your research, or on those poems you have started years ago and never finished. To give your precious exhausted land proper attention. But you already know this is not reality. You have already signed your time debt – the interest rate increasing due to virtual life. You will perform, the show must go on.
Let us know how you are coping with the pressure to be productive during a global pandemic. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below
Disclaimer: The author is a PhD student at the University of Warwick and chose not to disclose their name.