James Van Fossan, "Rest"

It’s hard to finish work. Especially work as intense and time-consuming as scholarship. It is a lot of work. How is it possible to accomplish any of it, and well? Here are some of the things I have noticed as a young scholar observing my field. (First, a sarcastic version; then, a serious one.)


(1) Be a genius.

This really seems to help people. It is important that your work not only gets done, but also that it is excellent, accurate, and publishable. (Publish or perish, you know.) Being brilliant is therefore something you should consider.

(2) Do not be too much of a genius, or at least feel the powerful need to tell the other, dumber people that they are wrong.

If you are too smart, you will need to understand everything before you write.This will slow you down. So try to get a couple of concussions or something so that you are not so capable of grasping the wild complexities at hand in any single question of knowledge. OR, become so fed up with the lazy idiots who clutter your discipline that you must constantly write articles to correct their foolishness and ignorance.

(3) Loathe and/or lack interest in human contact.

Books, journals, and dust are your friends. Friends are not your friends. They take up precious study time. If you need a break, go laugh at Wikipedia. Oh those torpid Internets!

(4) Stay fit.

Attend conferences to keep your wits sharp, and learn a new language every week. This will keep you at optimal smartness. You will be like a football player on steroids – only smarter, paler, and weaker.

(5) Manage your stress level.

Scholarship is stressful. You have to teach, grade, attend committee meetings, read, publish, etc. You must be prepared for frequent requests that require more time than exists in a single day. That is stressful. So, try your best to address your stressors. Perhaps you might consider developing poor eating habits, or alcohol dependency. I’d recommend bottling up everything until you have an unreasonable outburst at a loved one.

(6) Do not forget that your work is extremely important.

Who’s a scholar? You’re a scholar! People need and love scholarship. You are doing a service to the world with your article on anaerobic bacteria in lunar soil, or your book on the difference between 15th and 16th century Thomism, or your contribution to the festschrift for that guy we’ve all heard of. Remember this, and keep yourself motivated through it.


(1) Think ahead.

(2) Set realistic daily tasks. REALISTIC tasks.

(3) Make sure your tasks are actual tasks, and not vague goals.

(4) Work consistently. Be disciplined about your week.

(5) Make sure you rest, see people, exercise, and eat healthy. (After all, running is like theology…)

(6) Demand good quality from yourself, but move on quickly from your failures.