What are The Two Biggest Obstacles to Being A Successful Academic?

June 27th, 2012

At the AALS New Law Profs conference I attended this past weekend (the real reason I was in D.C., not just to sleep outside the Supreme Court), I attended a number of really interesting sessions on how to be a law prof. I also met a lot of really cool young academics, many of whom I’m sure I will work with for the next five decades of my life.

One panel though was particularly interest. The prof said that the two biggest obstacles to being a successful academic are perfectionism and procrastination.

Perfectionism, in that profs try to get their articles perfect. They spend too much time researching and figuring out how to finely craft the arguments. Once it is written, they go through endless rounds of revisions and comments and feedback from others, along with workshopping.

Procrastination, in that profs who have no set schedule (other than teaching for 4-6 hours per week) are unable to discipline themselves into writing on a consistent schedule. Especially during summer vacation, which lasts roughly four months.

I have neither problem. I do not strive for perfectionism. In fact, I eschew it. I have deeply internalized the notion of marginal cost. To approach 100% is not worth it. From 98%-99% is not worth it. Hell, I am happy with 95%. I don’t mind posting blog post and draft articles that aren’t even close to perfect. The benefit of getting your stuff out there early far exceeds the benefit of waiting till its perfect.

And, I don’t procrastinate. In fact, when I start doing something, I usually can’t stop. When I schedule time to do something I do it. Hell, I just wrote a 300 word blog post about not procrastinating.

A related (or unrelated) aside. I am listening to Walter Isaacson’s¬†biography¬†of Einstein. Einstein said, in hindsight, that he is glad that no university would hire him, and that he worked at the Swiss Patent Office. Had he worked in a university, he would have had to conform to the establishment, and shaped his research to fit into what everyone expected him to do. In other words, not rethink everything. By writing for himself while working at a Patent Examiner–where no one expected him to do anything–Einstein was able to totally challenge every assumption, and start from the ground up. Now you know the rest fo that story.