Relearning how to work (becoming much more efficient). Is it even possible?


Relearning how to work (becoming much more efficient). Is it even possible?

I’ve been considering a career in academia ever since I was an undergrad. I’m turning 30 this year. I think I should either get to it (PhD and beyond) or give it up once and for all.

The key source of anxiety for me is the hyper-productive nature of contemporary academia (cultural anthropology in my case). Everything I learned over the years from books, blogs, mentors, and peers leads me to believe that academia is a place where only the most efficient knowledge workers can hope to thrive.

My issue: while I love anthropology, I am a SLOW knowledge worker. I read slowly, I take reading notes slowly, and I write unusually slowly. Then there is memory; everything I want to commit to long-term memory takes a conscious effort and planning (which again, is rather time consuming).

As a HS/university student I often got on simply by throwing in as many hours as it took. However, during the MA (and especially BA/MA dissertation writing) my slow pace became a severe hindrance. I finished the BA with a 3.7 GPA (4.0 within major) from a decent R1 university. However, I was leading an increasingly unhealthy life, definitely not sustainable in the long term.

My understanding is that serious PhD candidates and junior faculty in my field are estimated to work 65h/week, and are expected to be high performers in terms of their output/teaching/service. This leads me to believe that at this level I can’t expect to succeed by throwing in some extra hours. I’d run out of hours to “throw” fairly quickly.

When I feel optimistic I think that perhaps I can relearn how I work – how I read, take notes, memorize and most importantly, how I write. I can learn to work faster/smarter/better. I assure myself, PhD programs are also about figuring THAT part out. They are also about learning how to cope with the workload.

At my lowest, I recollect late paper submissions, or the debilitating anxiety associated with being months behind schedule on dissertation work. Then I think: someone who wants to do this for a living should have breezed through BA/MA. If I haven’t figured out how to handle it better back then, perhaps it’s delusional to think that it will all magically come together now.

A part of me is afraid of investing many years only to discover that I can’t handle this type of work. To learn at 35 or 40 that I can’t do this job well. Please tell me what you think. For those who might have dealt with a similar problem, how did you overcome your SLOWNESS and become more effective?

TL;DR —- I want to be a professor. Love the field. Had good GPA/feedback on past work. But I’m a hopelessly SLOW reader/writer. Is there hope?


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