Book Review

A Riley & Whiting Collaboration

Julia Riley’s Review:

Picture1First, I would like to say as an expat Canadian researcher, I am happy to say that two Canadian professors wrote this book! Woot!

This book proposes a means to tackle the effect corporatization of higher education has on universities. Their ‘Slow’ Professor Manifesto has three aims: “to alleviate work stress, preserve humanistic education, and resist the corporate university”. The book focuses on how individual academics can change their own behaviour to allow personal relief from career stressors, and also promote systemic change. As a current PhD student, although they did attempt to gear the book for postgrads, the content was still a little out of my grasp. I do wonder what current professors thoughts on this book would be, or what my thoughts will be once I am in an academic leadership role. That being said there were some clear steps in the book where I, as a postgrad, could take action to improve my own current academic experience. For example, stopping comparing myself to other researchers as it only has a negative effect on my personal productivity, self-esteem, and confidence to approach other researchers for collaborations. Also, during conferences, departmental seminars and meetings, try to avoid multi-tasking and stay off of my phone or laptop. This would allow me to be more present in these scenarios, and likely will help me be an active member of the academic community.

I also found the writing style a bit odd, and not what I am used to as a scientist. But, I quickly got used to it. I sped through this book; it is appropriately short and concise. I feel like even the busiest academic could easily pick up and digest this book quickly. I personally finished reading it during two return train rides from work to home!

Overall, their ‘Slow’ Professor Manifesto really spoke to me. The issues they presented are ones I have noticed in today’s current academic systems. Many of the actions they suggested are things I hope to be able to do as an academic myself. Furthermore, the picture they paint of an academic system that takes time to promote undergraduate involvement in learning, and a vibrant and diverse academic community is one I hope to be part of once I am a professor myself!

Martin Whiting’s Review:

I will be very brief because Julia has done a wonderful job capturing the essence of this book and explaining the authors’ main thesis.

I’ll start by saying that most biologists that become academics do so because of a curiosity that is aroused early in life. I have been privileged to conduct field work in far-flung and exotic places working with fascinating creatures—it’s highly rewarding to answer interesting questions about the animals we work on. At the same time, I’m frequently overwhelmed by the amount of paper work that continuously crosses my desk. As such, I was very curious about what advice the authors of “The slow professor” had to offer! I wasn’t overly surprised by what I read, but there were some gems, and it prompted me to think about and reassess my own approach to the business of academia, in a culture of high expectation and little time.

We are expected to get grants, do research, publish papers, graduate postgrad students, sit on committees, teach undergraduates and fill out hundreds of forms in order to be compliant. Most of these things are intellectually rewarding and satisfying (except filling out forms) but they are being undermined by corporatization. We have to multi-task like never before. The authors stress the need to focus more on the process and less about the numbers (e.g. of papers). It’s also okay to miss an admin deadline (I loved reading that!). In fact, it can be good thing because it means you are focusing on the important stuff. Academia can be a treadmill and it’s easy to get fixated on unimportant e-mails and working on your to-do list. The authors stress life balance and a way of research that focuses more on the process and the quality of work. It might result in fewer outputs but chances are that the outputs themselves will have higher impact and make for more satisfying science (in our discipline). In this way we push back against a system of corporatization in favour of our craft and personal well-being! Well, that’s the plan..

Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. 128 pp. Cloth ISBN 9781442645561 Published Mar 2016, ebook (EPUB format) ISBN 9781442663107 Published Apr 2016.