Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Work of Professional Scholar: Answering Emails

Over on his new blog, my colleague down the road at UNC Chapel Hill, Bart Ehrman, has been offering a series of insights into The Work of the Professional Scholar.  Only the first part is (Introduction) is publicly available but one can get a flavour of those behind the paywall from their titles, Supervising PhD Dissertations, Undergraduate Theses, Undergraduate Courses and Graduate Seminars.  

Now of course these are all important elements in the life of the professional scholar, but what Bart has not so far mentioned is that the vast majority of one's time is spent ploughing through the endless, endless stream of emails that pour in on a daily basis.  For some scholars, the situation is so bad that they simply choose to ignore all email correspondence until the emailers in question become as persistent as the importunate widow.

One scholar confided in me that they only way that he was able to get any research done was to ignore everything until people started shouting at him.  I suspect that many other academics are the same.  As the editor of a book series, I will confide here that many academics routinely ignore emails requesting assistance.  Ask any publisher and you will hear the same story.

When my kids were little, I remember someone asking one of them what their dad did for a living and she said "He does something on the computer".  It wasn't "teaching" or "reading books" or "talking to students".  She'd seen me endlessly attempting to dig down through that email mountain.

13 comments:

Hwansoo said...

That's so true!

Chris Skinner said...

I was going to email you next week about my forthcoming LNTS volume, but after reading this I'm not sure you'll answer! : )

Sili said...

I'll refrain for mailing you, then. I guess I have to find my answers the hard way.

But thank you for recommending Dale Martin's Itunes course. He's an engaging and entertaining lecturer, and he's made me buy as many books as you have by now. And I'm only halfway through the course.

I wish his Historical Jesus seminar was online as well, for his 30 minute recap left me with more questions than answers, but those can go an the last post. (I'm proud to realise that I have some of the same objections as other readers.) I didn't appreciate his dismissal of current mythicists, though, but no surprise there. I do hope, though, that someone can write a better book taking the (bad?) mythicists to task, because by all accounts Ehrman's book is not it.

His asides about the fingerprints of source materials in Acts were very interesting, so that's certainly on my list of things to research next.

One question though: Why are we certain that John had no knowledge of the Synoptics? I'm looking forward reading your book on Thomas (you're an excellent writer), but I no nothing about John either.

Thank you for setting aside time for blogging.

johnmarkharris said...

Oh wow, this is a really easy issue to fix. Allot a specific period of time at the start and end of each day to "do email" and turn OFF all your "auto fetching" of emails.

Then, have a secretary/assistant "screen" the emails with some somewhat "automatic" responses that they can cut-n-paste for you. Only read the ones your trusted assistant can't handle, or ones they think you'd like to get (i.e. from a boss, or something only you can answer).

Make sure all your email responses are less than 100 words. Offer for them to set an appointment (through your assistant) to call you or come by your office FOR 30min.

Ignoring emails is not an option (or it should not be). Everyone deserves a response, and not a completely automatic response.

If you don't have an assistant, you can get a virtual assistant pretty cheap. If you have this much demand for your time, you should be able to afford it.

Hope this helps. Just call my assistant if you want to get together and talk aout it (but only for 30 min.)

Stan Harstine, Ph.D. said...

you failed to mention the students who think that your presence in your office qualifies as "office hours" or who assume you have nothing to do once they have turned in their final work and they have nothing to do.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Chris. Well, I'm not saying that *I* am like that. And I love your emails :)

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Sili. My post is at least partly facetious. Pleased you enjoyed the Dale Martin lectures. I think that John was familiar with the Synoptics but it's not so straightforward to demonstrate as it is intra-Synoptically because the level of verbatim agreement is so much lower.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, John. Well, unfortunately many of the emails I am dealing with require more than 100 words, but I appreciate your tips nevertheless. In fact, if I had not become fairly efficient at dealing with the hundreds that come in, I certainly wouldn't get the research, writing and teaching done that I am actually paid for! I particularly liked the last line of your comment, which made me smile.

Mark Goodacre said...

What, you don't like talking to students, Stan?! :)

Sili said...

"I think that John was familiar with the Synoptics but it's not so straightforward to demonstrate as it is intra-Synoptically because the level of verbatim agreement is so much lower. "

I assume it would be a matter of looking for clues that John's trying to stamp out the low christology of Mark and Luke?

The argument I heard somewhere was that John makes someone say "Isn't the Messiah supposed to come from Bethlehem?" and the responds that that's inconsequential. He supposedly wouldn't have had to brush off that question if he'd know Mathhew and Luke, but - as complete dilletante - it seems to me that that might just as well be a matter of wanting to refute the Synoptics. The Bethlehem 'fact' is too mired in the Messiah as an earhtly ruler.

Jim Deardorff said...

The impression I've gained is that the writer of John was very familiar with Matthew and Luke, but that when he wrote his gospel he didn't have either available to consult, and had to rely on his memory (and imagination).

Tony Burke, York University said...

Sorry, I have to add something here. I don't care how many e-mails you get, and whether you're a scholar or not, but it is simply rude to ignore them, or "wait until they shout." Maybe it's just me;like you, Mark, I'm an English emigre from England, but I'm a longtime resident of Canada--so I'm doubling up here on the politeness. A cautionary tale: I was putting together a project with a colleague. A deadline for the project was looming, so I needed to collaborate with him (just via e-mail). Four e-mails over three months went ignored, including a "please get back to me immediately because we need to get to work..." mail. So, I am now working with someone else. His loss.

Mark Goodacre said...

I must admit that I am taken aback at the number of academics who simply ignore emails. I always get back, even if it will not necessary be by return post.