I have found that people that do not work in the academy sometimes find it difficult to understand what it is that we do. The only person who did something a little scholarly was my mother, who taught at teacher-training colleges and got grants to do research on teaching strategies and present them at conferences. Yet, her real job was teaching, research came with it. What about me?
Scholars, as I define myself, are to the eyes of others researchers first and teachers almost because they have to. Heads up: I do not agree with this definition, but it is one that I have encountered in my short life in the academy. Over the holidays, my family -once more- asked about what I did. “I read and write”.
“Yes, we know that. But what do you really do?”
So I came up with a simple explanation. I have questions and I think they are important questions. 40% of my work is marketing these projects so that people give me money. The jargon we use is “applying for grants”. 40% of my time is also public relations. I need to network with big people that can help me answer these questions or that can sponsor their importance. This makes my job very social, but you have to be very, very, diplomatic. You want people to know you for the great questions you ask, not for criticizing somebody else’s work. The remaining 20% of my work is actually working. Reading, writing, looking for archives, making phone calls, going to the archives, taking pictures of documents, merging images into PDF files, running OCR if applicable, reading, writing…