Tips from a Master

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, AIR staff

How can a researcher stay ahead of the pack? Here are some tips from David Lester, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (now Stockton University). Professor Lester has published nearly 2000 studies, books and other academic reports. His recent work is profiled elsewhere in an article from The Annals of Improbable Research. Much of his earlier work is listed pithily in the article “Way to Go, David Lester,” which appeared in AIR 10:2

In His Own Words
Professor Lester shared a few of his professional secrets in a long letter published March 9, 2004 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, under the headline:

Complain, Complain
A widely published scholar wonders why academics gripe so much about how hard they work

The letter was his response, he says, to “articles by faculty members who find the academic life too stressful—a point of view I find absurd.”

The letter is meant to educate. “I have made some decisions over the course of my career that have allowed me to be productive, yet not feel overwhelmed,” he confides. Here are some of Professor Lester’s insights:

• “I have not attended a faculty meeting since 1972. I found that I liked my colleagues much better if I did not listen to their silly comments in such meetings.”

• “I used to lunch with colleagues, but I found that their continual complaints about the administration and the students soured my attitude toward the college.”

• “For many years, I had my name removed from the faculty e-mail list so that I had no awareness of what  activities were taking place at the college —I missed the president’s Christmas party on several occasions  because of that— nor what issues were making the faculty and staff members angry. Now I have had myself placed back on the e-mail list, but I direct all collegewide messages to a folder that I rarely peruse.”

• “I do not pick up the telephone in my office, and my voice-mail message informs callers that I do not check for telephone messages.”

• “I have avoided as much college service as I can in recent years so that I can concentrate on my scholarly work.”

Professor Lester finishes with a passage full of rousing cheer: “Life at this college has enabled me to lead a good life—no, it has been a wonderful life. I have had plenty of time to engage in scholarly activities, and, outside of the college, I have the opportunity to enjoy the world. I am puzzled, therefore, by those who find the academic life to be so hard and so stressful. Perhaps they would have benefited from spending eight hours down a coal mine in their adolescence?”


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2007 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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