On Submitting Academic Work (Scholar’s Compass)

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Scripture

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. — Psalm 143:8

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22-23

Reflection

I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. I am a procrastinator. I’m sure many of you can relate. I don’t procrastinate because I’m lazy or because I don’t want to work hard. It’s a crutch directly related to perfectionism. My work will never be as good in reality as it remains in my head. So I avoid the inevitable disappointment that comes when the writing exists.

What’s going on here? I have long struggled with perfectionism and procrastination and it’s obviously much more complex than a few sentences will elucidate. I tend toward Carol Dweck’s “fixed mindset” in which failure is a permanent statement about my ability or giftedness instead of an opportunity to grow and improve. My own sense of identity is wrapped up in my academic performance in a way that it’s not as wrapped up in other aspects of my life. I don’t want people to realize I’m not as smart as they think I am!

As we progress in academic life, especially in humanities, the deadlines become more fluid. Sure, there are expected deadlines for comps or proposals or even first chapters due, but these may pass without much acknowledgment. Once coursework is complete, it is possible to continue to push back deadline after deadline, ever researching and writing yet never finishing. And, as we’ve all heard before, “the best dissertation is a completed one.”

Even after grad school, academics may continue to operate the same way, never turning in an article or a manuscript because it’s never quite good enough—even delaying so long that the research is out of date. And we are only making things harder on ourselves. It will never be finished. Complete. Perfect.

This idea of waiting until we have everything figured out to submit work, whether it’s a term paper, a dissertation, or a book manuscript, is not helpful. We can’t delay based on fear that we’ll change our minds later on—we probably will.

Learning is a life-long process. Scholarship builds on scholarship. We’re all on a journey.

The academic journey is somewhat like our spiritual journey as well. We’ll never be “finished” in this lifetime. Our faith builds on our knowledge and experience of God, year after year. We can’t wait until we have it all figured out to act out our faith. As we grow, we will probably change our minds about some things. And when we fail, it is not the last word. God is still present in our faithfulness and in our failure.

The journey of faith takes daily practice. Likewise, our academic research and writing works best when we practice it each day. When we practice daily prayer and scripture reading, God often grows our faith. When we practice writing, even when we’re anxious and would rather put it off, let’s pray that God would use that daily discipline to grow our confidence in him and in our work. It’s likely that our work done regularly over time will be of higher quality than done at the last minute.

In our spiritual and academic journeys alike, let’s pray that God would give us his view of us, and that we might more and more receive our sense of identity and worth from Jesus and not from our performance.

Finally, why not read about others and their life journeys, in academia or otherwise, to see how others have grown over time, experienced failure and breakthrough, struggled, loved, and seen God at work? I think particularly of Peter and am thankful that his dramatic failure in his denial of Jesus was by no means the last word in his life. It was a profound turning point. May we view our own journeys with faith and without fear.

I encourage you to submit your work—as an act of faith and faithfulness.

Questions

  • Do you struggle with submitting work, whether it’s an article, a grant application, a dissertation chapter, or coursework? If so, what do you think the root of that resistance is?
  • How might you face the anxiety or procrastination surrounding completing your work?
  • How might faith change your perspective on submitting work?
  • Are you drawn to adopt any of these spiritual practices?

Prayer

Almighty God,

You have created us and you love us. You do not count success and failure as the world does. Your love is unfailing; your mercies new every morning.

Remind us that life is a journey of transformation. Remind us that our worth comes from you. Give us confidence in you and in the ways you are growing us. Give us the grace to release our best work with peace. Take away anxiety from our minds and hearts as we rest in you.

Amen.

Image courtesy of jarmoluk at Pixabay.com


Scholars-Compass-image-40x40Note: Part of both the Scholar’s Compass series and Anna’s Academic Work as Spiritual Practice series on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. Don’t miss Anna’s first post of the series: Grading as a Spiritual Practice.

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Anna Gissing

Anna Moseley Gissing is an associate editor at InterVarsity Press and senior writing instructor for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Her writing has been published in Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She lives near Chicago with her husband and two children.

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One Comment

  • kle.seaton@gmail.com'
    Kelly commented on May 21, 2015 Reply

    Wonderful article – and very applicable!

    I think another big reason for procrastination, at least in academia, is the tyranny of the urgent and in the amount of work that must be done. thanks for the reminder to block out time for the discipline of writing daily!

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