Monday, April 17, 2023

On graphomania

As we're moving flats soon, I threw out a pile of papers, about half a meter tall when all stacked up. I've accumulated these papers over the last 6 years that we've been living in our current flat. They include different types of papers:

1) Papers that I started reading but then realised they weren't as relevant or interesting as I thought.

2) Papers that I printed because the title and abstract sounded (and still sound) fascinating - but as I haven't read them while they've been lying around for years, I should give up on my wishful thinking and acknowledge the fact that I will probably never have the time to read them.

3) Papers that I've read but mostly forgotten about.

If it sounds discouraging that, as part of our academic jobs, we don't really have the time to read papers, it gets worse when you consider the implication that our very own papers are probably getting treated in the same way. Indeed, I have found that I myself am starting to forget what I wrote in various papers where I'm the first author. For example, I spent hours writing a discussion section for a paper I'd started writing months previously, only to discover that past me had already incorporated most of my arguments and examples in the introduction section! 

Of course, this is not a new problem, and I'm not the first one to talk about it. Dorothy Bishop wrote a more detailed blogpost with more than anecdotal observations here: Here, she basically showed that a researcher studying autism and ADHD would need to read about 8 papers a day to keep up with all the new literature in the field (assuming they're already up-to-date with all papers that have previously been published). 

The reason why I'm writing so much is also obvious. I need publications so that I get a job and so that my department gets money. And yet, as much as I love writing, and more generally, working as a researcher, I wonder if there isn't a better way to spend my time, and hereby the taxpayers' money that is paying for my time...

In the meantime, I'll try to practice the art of minimalist writing.

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