Using spare time for self-development

Working as an academic, I’ve long been in the habit of noting interesting topics for research. When I’m later looking for something to do, I scan my notes and follow up on whatever topic seems most immediate or useful. Few of these efforts resulted in research papers, though many have informed comments that I’ve made in conversation or on Internet fora, and some have produced material that I’ve used in teaching. For me this sort of activity grew naturally out of the time I spent as a full-time researcher but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone recommend habits of this sort to non-academics.

In committing to work one day a week on A Little Research, I’ve also re-committed myself to use any spare time on that day to improving my practice through scholarship, resisting the temptation to say that my work is done and move on to an unrelated project. Improving my practice using academic research is also eating my own dog food: why expect anyone to hire A Little Research to produce scholarship that improves their practice if I don’t do it for my own practice?

I doubt that using my spare time for a little scholarship will imbue me with whole new skills or fields of knowledge; but I’d like to think that doing it in the past has nonetheless developed my knowledge of engineering, expanded my knowledge of fields like economics and law that I’ve never formally studied but impact upon both engineering and daily life, and prepared me for a business like A Little Research.

The nearest equivalents I can think of for non-academics are companies that allow a certain amount of time each week for staff to work on projects of their own, or general exhortations for people to practice their skills whenever they can. Of course reading and synthesising research is part of my skillset as an academic, but the point of this commitment is not so much to practice the existing skill (though I do) but to put what I find into practice as well.

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