Busyness, blegh

A quick morning rant, unfiltered and unpolished:

One of the big problems in academia is the culture of overwork, which in fact is a culture of busyness. People get angry or annoyed at others who do not constantly work. And the problem is that this is not just busy work, it’s also stupid work. A well-run organization thinks hard about where to expend its energies instead of chasing the latest urgency or just churning out stuff.

Do we know whether academic overwork works? We know the downsides. But what are the successes? We measure them in students graduating FAST (again, by working many hours, supposedly), by publications and patents, grant dollars. We do not know how many social problems we’ve actually solved, how many people’s lives we have saved or at least have made easier, whether the world became more livable, kinder.

And I don’t know if what we are doing can be done better, or how we should actually measure whether what we do is successful. I do think that practices and rituals that are not optimized towards the right outcome are important and worthwhile, so practices that assess badly are not necessarily bad practices. But what we do in academia is that we optimize busyness, and that’s definitely not the right outcome and not a healthy ritual either. And our assessments do not measure impact but simply how busy we were and whether the products of our busyness were appreciated by the academic circle jerk.

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