“Revisions required.” While this phrase can bring some forlorn moments, it offers hope and opportunity to fix known and previously unknown errors. This is the assessment I would give myself after completing my first year on the tenure-track at The University of The West Indies, St. Augustine. While 2016/2017 was in some ways ‘a good year,’ (I began said tenure track position and my first book was published) nevertheless I made plenty of mistakes especially when it came to points of departure with established senior colleagues. I am almost certain that many of these mistakes are common for new hires, and perhaps especially acute when navigating the transition from one academic culture to another. Still, in the spirit of learning, the goal is not to repeat them. And so I am implementing revisions.
In July and August 2017, I was fortunate enough to visit Simon Fraser University’s Graduate Liberal Studies program. Away from home base, the visiting scholar position provided just right amount of distance to think through and outline objectives for the 2017/2018 academic year. My first commitment was to schedule my time more thoughtfully. Whereas I had found myself constantly responding to issues, this time around I wanted to set and follow an agenda that anticipated developments before they arose. My thinking here is informed by the expectation that if The UWI wants its tenure track faculty to set an academic agenda, this must be matched on my end by a proactive administrative agenda that protects time to rise to the occasion.
Thankfully I have been able to stack my teaching commitments together. This does mean I have greater share of evening classes and thus a long working day. Even so, it does leave those mornings and afternoons open to focus on office hours, reviewing lecture notes, updating power-points, touching base with teaching assistants, distributing assignment memorandums, and the nitty-gritty parts of course management. Each of these tasks individually isn’t very demanding, but inevitably they take longer than expected, particularly when there is some backlog. I used part of my time at SFU to put together several basic online tools to save classroom time, like a Google Forms to collect student non-institutional email addresses or to create a WhatApp group to distribute notices. (While The UWI does have Moodle, regulations about finances and registration leave many students locked out of primary systems.) I have found that the initial time I invested has paid itself off as I can spend more of the course attending to the material as it relates to matters of public concern.
Another change has been archival sequestration, a routine I picked up during my undergraduate years at Wits. I specifically set aside two days a week, 9am to 1pm to be in the stacks. This helps me to concentrate on reading and writing, the other wing of my faculty duties. These particular afternoons are spent grant-hunting and grant-writing. I am doing this because I would like to provide more support to my postgraduate students. So far two grants are pending, so I am holding thumbs.
My final day is dedicated to either graduate students or off-campus research. For the graduate students, we meet twice a month for group meetings. The main goal is to enable one another to become better theorists, myself included, about the context of doing digital sociology in the Caribbean. While the group meeting is rooted in reading, study and discussion, it is important that we disseminate our thoughts—it doesn’t serve our values if our ideas do not see the light of day. As a group, we have targets for traditional kinds of academic products, as well as other kinds of dissemination, like posters, flyers, op-eds, light social media campaigns and the like. These targets vary according to the person, their degree path, aspiration, and interest.
Throughout the workweek, I try to find time to do a minimum of 30 minutes of reading each day. I find the writing comes fairly easily. Tweets, blog posts, emails to friends, research memorandums and drafts all tumble out. But if I don’t read, I find most of these words are roughly re-statements of the same basic point. And while these versions can help polish and improve the rhetoric of any one argument, it is the steady and ongoing commitments to reading books that helps me try think more carefully about the large-scale social transformations currently underway, transformations where extraordinary technological developments that have led to ever more social interactions becoming predetermined. And so, I hope the revisions prove acceptable. I’ll report back in a couple months.
Scott Timcke is a Lecturer in the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies at the University of the West Indies. He uses Marxist methods to study social inequality, the digital mode of production, the causes and consequences of imperial violence in the early 21st Century.