End of the year balances

Dear readers and co-bloggers,

in the last months, I thought again and again about what we could do as a “end of the year” blogpost. I wondered whether we should list here our publications (you are welcome to do it in the comments, by the way, I, for one, am always curious to know what other people are working on) or our major achievements (same as above).

However, allow me to ask a more radical question: What should count as an achievement for us? How should we evaluate the success-rate of a given year? My first answer would be doing good* research and trying to share my results so that they are available to interested readers. However, the problem becomes more complicated as soon as we try to get objective measures for both goals —and objective measures would be desirable, in order to achieve better clarity for our goals.
Here are some candidates:

  1. You published an article in a top-10 journal
  2. You published N articles/books/reviews…
  3. You taught N (graduate/undergraduate) classes (and survived:-))
  4. You met new interesting colleagues
  5. You got N interviews/a job offer/a (TT or temporary) job/earned tenure/your project has been accepted
  6. You tutored or helped N students
  7. You organised N conferences/workshops/webinars…
  8. You have been invited to speak at X
  9. You have received N emails of people asking for your advice or telling you that they enjoy your work

(Am I missing something? Please let me know)

Now, the problem is: Which ones are pseudo-indicators of success and what counts really? It is not easy to tell, especially since, e.g., less innovative and ultimately useless articles may be fashionable and thus get published on top-10 journals whereas books which might not be influential now could become so in one hundred years. Thus, even if we could agree on the general goal, it remains unclear how to identify how we should be spending our time in order to achieve it.
My solution is that I try

  • a) to envision a 5- or 10-years plan (which includes concrete goals such as: editing and translating the published and unpublished portions of Veṅkaṭanātha’s Seśvaramīmāṃsā, publishing my translation of Rāmānujācārya’s Tantrarahasya, translating the tarkapāda of Prabhākara’s Bṛhatī).
  • b) check how much progress I made in that direction in the last 12 months.
  • c) go to a) and be more realistic
  • d) write down what should be (realistically) done in the next six to twelve months in order to progress in the direction of the goals set in a’)

Interestingly enough, as long as I can day-dream with 10 years at my disposal, I tend to over-estimate what I will achieve. Step b) makes me, instead, realise how short are the years. I can thus re-write my goals for the step a) and consider more carefully what I can do in ten years and what needs to be done in the next year.

What are your strategies for planning a successful year? And how successful has been this year for you?

*I don’t buy the idea that “good” means “low quality” and that our goal should be nothing less than “outstanding”.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

12 Replies to “End of the year balances”

  1. I thought that yourlong-term program was to make “Indian Philosophy” part of “Philosophy”!

    Okay, I’m kidding. I’m glad you wrote this post, however… If I have to be honest, at the moment the only criterion I apply to evaluate my year is too see if I have managed to stay afloat by finding another one-year or two-year job in my field. If yes, then it was a good year. All the rest doesn’t count to me. I don’t really care about the quality of my work, my students, colleagues etc.Am I being too pessimistic? Or am I being simply realistic? Or maybe something else?

    Seriously, I admire you for being able to plan for the next five or even ten years. If nothing will change in academia in the next five to ten years, I believe I will have to quit it.

    • Dear Camillo,

      you are right under many points of view. First, I updated the post and added temporary jobs as one’s main accomplishment for the year. Second, the job situation is hopelessly difficult (but we knew it, didn’t we?). And, third, you are right, I keep on thinking at my “vaste programme” as my frame of reference, but concretely I keep on being involved in more specific projects —it seems to me that there is so much material which needs to be unearthed and focusing just on making the existent available would seem to me not enough to respond to my inner kārya-drive;-)

  2. Well, the job situation was bad, we knew it, but now it’s really getting worse. The point I wanted to make was simple: I am so overwhelmed by the situation in academia that I am no longer able to see positive results, even if they are there and they should be acknowledged. If you ask me how this year has been for me, well I tell you it was a disaster. Why? Because I am behind of schedule with everything. Does this mean I haven’t accomplished anything? On the contrary, I did a lot of things. And yet, working hard and hopefully doing a good job is not enough in academia. They want more and more and more from you. You have to publish relevant books or papers, teach and tutor students, establish a network by going to or organizing conferences etc. To tell you the truth, the reason why I lag behind is simple: I basically stopped working on the weekends. Why? Because I want to have a life with my family. I worked on weekends every time I was alone, and the result was that I was drained of energies afterwards. This means that my overall performance suffers from this habit.

    I just wanted to point out the absurd situation in academia and call colleagues to arms. Please stop a bit and think about it. Is this situation helping you in you work or rather hindering it?

  3. As we’ve often seen here, expectations, personal plans, and the sense of what our job is as academics is so different based on our individual circumstances. In most American jobs, a large part of our professional life is being a competent teacher, which takes up much of our time.

    For me, the central accomplishment-marker that I look forward to on the horizon is tenure; I’m in my tenure year, and the process should be complete by the end of spring. At my school, being a good teacher is a big part of it, and I’m gratified by the number of solid teaching reports and evaluations my colleagues have made for me in this regard. We may have confidence in ourselves, but hearing it mirrored or nuanced by people we trust helps.

    I’m also with you Camillo in that personally, quality of life concerns are central. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found a tenure-track job in a place where I’m very happy; the job-to-job pressure isn’t there, though the siren’s song of research expectations (largely self-generated) often echoes in the background. Ultimately, though, as a personal matter, I’d rather choose my research projects with some care and make sure that I succeed in my fatherly dharmas, so to speak, as well.

    I think I’m someone who’s been irrevocably ruined (read: blessed) by reading Daoist authors with some seriousness, I have the disposition to hold that as a rule happiness and frenetic activity aren’t tethered to each other in any significant way.

    Production wise, it’s been a comparatively slow year for me; I’ve finished a few papers that are waiting in the “forthcoming” queue, and a few book reviews were published. I’m happily chipping away at a book I’m working on with an esteemed colleague. My serious lifting on the book will occur next year, however, when I have my first sabbatical.

    • Yes, Matthew, the North American and the European situation are quite different, basically because there are nothing like SLACs in Europe. One might teach philosophy (or classics) in high school, but many of us who have studied Indian Philosophy in an Areal study institute (e.g., one on “South Asia”) luck the relevant prerequisites.

      I would be interested in reading more details about your papers (and especially about the forthcoming book). As for me, I may mention in order to attest to the liveliness of the IPhBlog-community that I organised a panel on the epistemology of language together with “our” Malcolm Keating (whom I did not know in person before —so that our collaboration is really a result of our blogging activity) in May, one on Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta at the WSC (together with Marcus Schmücker), where I could meet further readers and co-bloggers, and one on Comparative Theology at the CBC in September (which was organised by me together with Andrew Ollett and where I first met in person another co-blogger, Chris Framarin).

      • Thanks for asking, Elisa. Among the papers that are forthcoming is a contribution to *Skepticism from Antiquity to the Present* (Bloomsbury, eds. Diego Machuca and Baron Reed) that considers skeptical traditions in India, and a paper on vAtsyAyana’s theory of knowledge for *The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy* (OUP, ed. Jonardon Ganeri).

        Malcom and I have also done an annotated, select bibliography on pramANa theory for Oxford Bibliographies Online that is forthcoming.

        Regarding the book, Hackett Publishers has accepted a proposal for a book provisionally entitled *The Nyāya-sūtras: Select Translations with Early Commentaries.* It will be topically arranged, with select clusters of sūtras and early commentaries (vAtsyAyana, uddyotakara, and vAcaspati, with occasional snippets of udyayana).

        Stephen Phillips and I are working on it together, and the express point of the book is to have something accessible and useful for the classroom. In many ways, I was inspired to put this project together because of considerations akin to those voiced by Jonathan and Ethan on the other current thread.

        I’m chipping away at some parts now with Stephen, and we are working very hard to make it as accessible as possible while still faithful to the original language and context. It’s not easy, because it’s like translating it multiple times. Once, for us, and then from the kind of English we usually use to the kind of English our students can read without being too fatigued.

        The more I work on this sort of translation the more I get somewhat tired of clunky translating practices that don’t care as much about the target language as they do the original.

        • Again, a very interesting subtopic, thanks Matthew. I have discussed the methodology of translations from Sanskrit (with a reference to you) in this post: http://elisafreschi.com/2015/04/30/translating-from-sanskrit-methodological-issues/
          As a small summary of it, I think the main point is asking ourselves what is the audience we envision. Our fellow indologists will not be content with anything less than an accurate translation of each Sanskrit term. Our undergraduate students are likely not to understand it.

          • Thanks for the link, and I agree with your last point, Elisa. And that’s why in the context of the growth of our discipline, we need to effectively communicate to those who don’t already know the language.

            I’d also say that if one has a strong desire to make it accessible, she can usually improve an accurate translation to make it more readable without sacrificing fidelity. It takes work.

            Finally, and in response to your last point, I’ve been persuaded that you translate according to the sense of the original as best expressed in the target language, and this often requires phrases and adjustments of various kinds. When reading an English translation, it’s the wrong kind of question to find an English word and say “where is the Sanskrit for this word?” Rather, we may ask “what in the original Sanskrit are you expressing here?”

          • Matthew, this is a very interesting discussion (shall we start a new post about it?). Personally, I do not think that both readerships can be served with the same translation.

  4. I’ll second Elisa’s testimony about the IPhBlog community. As a result of blogging here, I organized the panel that Elisa mentions. There, I met quite a few excellent scholars living and working outside of the US. At the SACP, Ethan Mills, another blogger here, got together a group of us to talk about the future of Indian philosophy. I am hoping that some members of both Elisa’s and Ethan’s panels may be on another panel focusing on absence, location, and place in Indian epistemology and logic.

    Also related to blogging, but less formally, I was able to met Andrew Ollett on a 24-hour layover in Singapore. He and I had been reading Sanskrit together with Elisa via Skype (this distance reading has been suspended now that time zones and schedules have made things difficult). As well, since he has begun blogging here, Alex Watson and I have exchanged some emails about teaching in liberal arts institutions in Asia. I’ve found blogging to be an excellent way to get to know the work of other people with whom I might not otherwise have the chance to converse.

    As far as year-end reflections on productivity go, I defended my dissertation and was hired at Yale-NUS College, which are two major milestones. I also had a paper published in the Journal of Pragmatics on metaphor (strictly Anglophone analytic philosophy) and submitted two articles elsewhere, which are currently under review. I have been teaching some students Sanskrit in addition to teaching (and developing) the common curriculum at YNC. My five-year plan includes making use of a fellowship I’ve just gotten to work on a series of articles on Mīmāṃsā and philosophy of language. I hope to polish my translation of the Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā and find a publisher in the next year or two.

  5. I realize I’m joining the thread very late, but here are are some things I did in 2015:

    – I published two articles and two book reviews (see my Academia.edu page for details: https://utc.academia.edu/EthanMills). One of the articles, “On the Coherence of Dignāga’s Epistemology: Evaluating the Critiques of Candrakīrti and Jayarāśi” was partly based on some posts I made here on the blog earlier this year (I thanked the blog in my acknowledgements!).
    – In late December I had a paper on Vasubandhu and external world skepticism accepted by the International Journal for the Study of Skepticism. It should appear in 2016. I’m excited to bring some Indian philosophy to a “mainstream” journal.
    – I served as a panel chair and discussant for a panel called “Self, Mind, and Agency” at the Pacific APA in Vancouver in April, where I met our fellow blogger, Anand Vaidya. Anand invited me to San José State to give a talk to his comparative philosophy seminar in October, which was a great experience.
    – I organized a panel, “The Future of the Study of Indian Philosophy” at the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Conference in Monterey, California in October. I gave a talk, “Whither the Matilal Strategy?: On Indian/Analytic Comparisons,” which was partly based on a post I made here on the blog. Our fellow blogger, Malcolm Keating, was also on the panel. As he mentioned, there are still plans in the works to do something based on this panel here on the blog (I do apologize for the delay).
    – I taught Philosophies of India, an undergraduate survey course. I also created a new course, Introduction to Asian Philosophy, which is a lower level general education course that I taught in Fall 2015 and will be teaching again in the spring.
    – In August I was invited to give a talk for a community group here in Chattanooga called the Chattanooga Institute of Noetic Sciences Study Group. I talked about the relationship between skepticism and religious practice in Sextus and Nāgārjuna. It was a good chance to do some community engagement (something my university is keen to do).
    – In October, I gave an invited talk at Wofford College in South Carolina (I was invited by Jeremy Henkel). I talked about Nāgārjuna and skepticism.
    – And of course in January 2015 I began serving at the Book Review Editor here at the blog. We’ve had a number of really great reviews so far, and hopefully we’ll have a lot more in 2016. Please do contact me if you’re interested in writing one!

    • Thanks for answering, Ethan and congratulations for the breakthrough in a generalistic journal (please let us know about the feedback you receive). I have a follow-up question, namely: How do you understand “Asian Philosophy”? Is it an expedient to group different philosophical traditions or do you think there is something distinctive about “Asian philosophy” qua “Asian”?

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