Thoughts on Scholarship

December 23, 2011


There was an advice article in the Chronicle by Lynn Worsham recently that caught my attention. Worsham observes that an increasing number of articles and manuscripts submitted for publication in the journal where she works and other presses that she reviews for are, what she calls, “Fast Food scholarship.” Fast food scholarship aims to fulfill the publishing requirement but is not carefully researched, not well developed, and not in conversation with other recent scholarship.

It strikes me that, while I agree that the prevalence of quickly written and substandard scholarship is problematic, this type of writing is what graduate school pushes us toward. While the ideal student would structure their work so that they could write multiple drafts for seminar papers and the like, that ideal is challenging if not impossible. The reading load is such that “skimming” is the preferred from of graduate reading, but it seems to me that this limits our ability to engage deeply with other authors’ arguments. We read widely so that we can sound intelligent but we do not read deeply. Our writing is done quickly, often with little feedback and there is no requirement to revisit it or improve upon it.

If graduate school is for professional development and is there to teach us how to engage in the academic world, then I think the problem identified by Worsham is a problem that begins in the structure of our education. I would love to have time to think deeply about my arguments, to revise and restructure, to read thoroughly and really engage with other scholarship on the topic. But what is rewarded is being prolific and quick, and the writing style that we learn results in quantity but not quality. Since the work load and publishing requirements are just as heavy after graduate school, how does one create the space and time to do the deeply engaged scholarship that is worth reading?

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