Monday, January 05, 2009

Academic New Year Resolutions

It is the time of year for resolutions, and I am going to hold myself to account by publishing my academic ones here. All horribly self-indulgent, of course, but then resolutions are a bit like that.

1. Write more: 2008 was the best year for writing for me since the move to Duke. They say that it takes a couple of years to get stuck into a new job, a new home, a new culture, a new country, and the distractions of applying for the Green card, and other related things, were over. Even so, I think I should have written more.

2. Publish more: although I wrote quite a lot, I did not publish a lot in 2008, and I need to be more strategic about the ratio of writing to publication. It's high time my next book was out, and it is full steam ahead to get it finished.

3. Focus on the book: I am easily distracted with a range of research interests, and I tend to nibble at a topic here and a topic there, making gradual progress on each of them instead of radical progress on just one of them. I need to stop trying to juggle so many research projects and writing commitments and focus on the book.

4. Be less nice : I need to be much less nice. I notice that other academics focus on their own careers, they ignore emails, or they default to "no" every time. They look after number 1. In recent years, I have spent far, far too much time trying to be kind, collegiate and helpful.

5. Don't over-research everything: it is easy to keep on reading and reading and reading and to end up over-thinking a problem that you have, in fact, already solved. One of my Oxford supervisors, John Ashton, used to say "Solvitur scribendo".

6. Invest time in your teaching: It really came home to me last year just how much I enjoy undergraduate teaching. I am lucky here at Duke -- I have clever, motivated and confident students who make the job enjoyable. And I have superb Teaching Assistants too. But until recently, I had not experimented with classes of 100+ and I have enjoyed the challenge.

7. Keep the teaching fresh: I have now taught the same suite of courses (New Testament, Jesus, Paul) on several occasions here so it would be easy to let the teaching become stagnant. I am committing myself, therefore, to making sure that I have a fresh angle, or some fresh questions, or some fresh perspectives, every time I go to class.

8. Invest time in disseminating scholarship outside of the classroom: I have always attempted to think about how scholarship can reach a broader public, but the dwindling amount of my own spare time (reference 4. above) has severely limited the amount of time that I have had to work on internet resources. 2009 is the year when fresh life will be breathed into the New Testament Gateway, with a little help from my friends.

It will be interesting to see how good I will be at keeping these. I expect that I find 6, 7 and 8 quite easy, 1-3 more challenging, but will struggle most with number 4.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

I don't think I've ever seen a resolution to be less nice, but I know what you mean.

Danny Zacharias said...

number 4 and 6 have a tendency to collide a little, so stick with the niceness. Do you just mean don't over-commit?

Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


All of us have to set goals if we are planning to accomplish in life. People say that New Years resolutions are made to be broken. The truth is if we do not make those resolutions we will never know whether we accomplished them.

I wish you well. Give us a report next year.

Claude Mariottini

John Lyons said...

Having encouraged a number of people to say no (i.e. be less nice) over the years, the first thing they always do is say no to me! And then not to anyone else!!

To be really radical, Mark, you have to decide to say no to people who will not be happy about it. Otherwise all you do is carry on saying yes to those you don't want to offend and only say no to your mates. A peculiar outcome.

Anonymous said...

You were nice? New Year's resolution to be less nice? That's not very nice! :-)

Anonymous said...

John Ashton hailed from the generation when it was still thought biblical scholars benefited from a knowledge of Latin: "Solvitur scribendo". Difficile est saturam non scribere.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Steph. The resolutions and some of the comments on it are refreshingly transparent about the crushing egocentricity even of scholars who spend their time on Jesus and his follwers. A New Year's resolution to invest more in logorrhea and less in people? How sad. How telling. When it comes time to revisit all those resolutions, will we say "I wish I'd added that extra couple of somnolent inches to the world's libraries?"

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for all the enjoyable comments; you are all much too nice. Anonymous 1: Yes, of course -- solvitur scribendo! I only heard him say that phrase and that must have been it! Anonymous 2: don't take me too seriously; these things are my own self-deprecating attempts at humour. Those who know me understand that I have sometimes been criticized for being a bit too nice. By the way, anons., please sign your names when you add comments. Thanks.

Michael F. Bird said...

You don't know how not to be nice! However, I think given our recent correspondence you are learning how to say "no".

Best wishes for a productive year.