Reading, writing (and arithmetic)

Posted on November 8, 2007

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I wrote a while ago that I had felt like I had fallen into a particular trap that most academics are probably familiar with. The trap is that you realise how little you know and read more to try and get rid of your ignorance. Unfortunately, reading more only reveals to you that your ignorance is even greater than you feared thus requiring you to read even more. In the meantime, however, you fail to properly integrate what you have read with what you already know.

A wise comment that Werner Callebaut made to me regarding reading was that I should not just read to fill the holes in my knowledge but that I should be directed in my reading by wanting to answer particular questions or to solve particular problems. This makes a lot of sense for a couple of reasons. The first is that you avoid a directionless  pursuit of information that “might come in useful” – a pursuit that is bound to be unending. The second is that it forces you to immediately begin integrating what you learn with what you already believe.

What I would add to this remark is that it is probably a good idea to always combine reading with writing. Of course, what gets written may well turn out to be superseded by what you find out later (something that is actually always true) but writing doesn’t just change what is on the page but also what is in our heads. Of course, these are things that every good supervisor says to their doctoral students yet it seems that even a number of years afterwards I need to remind myself of the value of being forced to put things down on paper.

As it is, I have now started trying to put together a first draft of a book-length manuscript on the basis of the research I have done at the KLI thus far. For this purpose I am going to try and avoid working on new articles and will just finish up those that I am already committed to. I need to pull all of my ideas together into a coherent whole.

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Posted in: postdoc, research