Descriptions and times of courses I am teaching in the Autumn Term!

I just put the final touches on my courses for this year. I am pretty excited about what the year portends!

On Tuesdays and Fridays at 2:30pm, I will be teaching CMST 1a03: Intro to Communication. I absolutely love teaching this giant course. It is the first course that I ever taught at Mac, on the morning of September 11, 2001. What a start to a career. The way we teach communications at McMaster is a little different, with a strong focus on critical, cognitive and professional approaches. The students read a big selection of interpersonal and speech communication texts, as well as a lot of communication, linguistic and cultural theory. The assignments are a combination of professional writing, presentations and, this year, public speaking!

On Tuesday mornings, 11:30-2:30, I will be teaching CMST 4N03: News Analysis, Theory & Practice. This course is designed to highlight agenda setting, framing and cultivation theory. It is also meant to pull the veil back from how news is a produced and viewed. We spend a lot of time thinking about what the move to the Internet and social media means for the news. I also schedule a good number of visiting lectures from the worlds of journalism, public relations and political communication during this class. The students do a major empirical content analysis, working in groups.

On Friday evenings, 4:30-7:30, I will be leading a graduate seminar, CSMM 704: Media, Public Relations & Reality. This course will examine the concept of reality from a variety of perspectives: social, linguistics and cognitive. It is a very challenging course that takes students on a tour of the philosophy of reality, cognition and some public relations theory. Here’s what the syllabus looks like (remember, we are reading excerpts from the philosophical works!). I am very excited about this course, since it really is a “high theory” course – a change from the courses in communications management, measurement and analysis (which I love teaching too!).

CSMM 704: Syllabus

Week 1: What is knowledge? How does it support life?

  • Aristotle, Montaigne, Nietzsche

Week 2: Does knowledge define reality? How about perspectivalism?

  • Berkeley, Nozick, Descartes, Plato (Allegory of the Cave)
  • Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Week 3: What is reality for communications? The gnostic heresy.

  • Vogelin

Week 4: Causality?

  • Hume, Laplace

Week 5: How do language, mind & society impact reality?

  • Searle, Sperber, Eco, Quine,

Week 6: What is linguistic discourse? Does language shape reality?

  • Lakoff, Pinker, Fairclough

Week 7: What is social discourse? Is reality a social construction?

  • Foucault, Rosen, Wittgenstein

Week 8: What is the mind? Who are you? Is there a self?

  • Dennett, Freud, Aristotle (De Anima)
  • Media: The Century of the Self

Week 9: Media as simulacrum of life?

  • Minsky, Kurzweil, Hofstadter, Baudrillard

Week 10: What is reality from the perspective of public relations theory?

  • Bernays, Lipmann, Ellul, Chomsky
  • Media: Necessary Illusions
  • Fiction: The Man in the High Castle

Week 11: Do our senses and our emotions shape reality?

  • McLuhan, Damasio, Minsky (emotions), Turing
  • Media: The Persuaders, The Merchants of Cool

Week 12: Borges’ story of the map & Jean Vanier’s alternative view.

  • Borges, Vanier

5 tips to get your writing productivity up.

A lot of readers have asked me to explain further my writing process. I have decided to include five tips for writing productivity in this blog post. Hope they’re useful to you.

It is easy to fetishize writing, as though it is some sort of mystical or spiritual activity. That means considering it “special” or requiring “unique inspiration.” While this might be a romantic idea, and might boost our egos as people who write for a living, the fact is that taking on the attitude that “writing is special” means taking the high road to low and unpredictable productivity.

I find this in my own life. I have several hats that I often wear: university professor, academic and professional writer, academic planner and creator of programs, public relations/communications management consultant, and political consultant. These roles keep me very busy, and they are certainly extremely diverse. What is similar in all of them, however, is the fact that all of them demand a high level of writing productivity.

So what does writing productivity mean for me?

  • Being “quickly critical” about things I am asked to read or view. Whether it is a student’s essay, photo journal or videography – I need to be able to get through it quickly and efficiently, construct my opinion and then write my comments.
  • Being “an empathic reader”when it comes to reading and viewing work. As a consultant, I am often asked to comment on documents or PR literature that will be distributed to hundreds of thousands or even millions of readers/viewers. Often these projects come with a serious deadline. This means being able to put aside my personal perfectionism and understand what my readers/viewers will actually look for, hear and see when they look at the comms product we are putting in front of them. This can lead to faster choices and better choices. Follow your intuitions and your inner voice. They will rarely lead you astray.
  • Being “happy with good enough” when it comes to the quality of my own output. No one expects your writing to be perfect, especially not when you are putting in a first draft. I have learned, both as an academic and as a PR pro, that perfectionism is the sworn enemy of productivity.
  • Being able to “rely on your proof-reading circle.” It is much better to rely on a group of proofers with whom you go back and forth with a document, than to try and perfect the product yourself. People like Marcel Proust or Samuel Becker might have agonized about every word they put down, but that is death for the academic and professional writer. My philosophy: “When you have all your ideas down, and it is readable to another – get it out the door to a proof-reader.” Of course, never send half-baked writing out to the public! That would be crazy. But have a circle of proofers who will help you kick your writing into shape. Offer those people the same service back when they are writing.
  • Knowing that “writing is just a craft, it’s not a mystical experience.”  I learned early on that fetishizing writing as an art form will lead to paralysis and failure. If you are writing a speech, some advert copy, an academic article or a news release – you aren’t doing mystical. You are using the skills you learned through school and practice to give shape to ideas – whether they are your ideas or those of another. That’s it. You’re a craftsperson, not an artiste. Forget the artiste – you’ll only cause yourself useless drama and frustration.
Honestly, my best advice, apart from those five points is:
  • Set aside a space where you will write. Keep it clean and unencumbered by too much clutter. Set yourself a writing target and then achieve it. Do not stare a blank page, start filling it.

Focusing in on a writing project is hard enough without creating a psychological drama around the writing process.

Maybe Nike was write (haha) – “Just do it.”


Gave a Speech on Social Media Risk Management in Ottawa

Last night I had a wonderful experience, giving a Mac on the Road alumni lecture on “Social Media Risk Management” in the St. Laurent Room of the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa.

There was a great, diverse crowd of people out, ranging from professional communicators from the Ottawa area to different generations of McMaster alumni, to several young people who were alumni of my CMST 1A03: Intro to Communication class, across the years, since I started in 2001. There were also several current and former Hill staffers there. There were also a couple of my current students in in the Master of Communications Management Program – I was so happy to see them!

I was so very pleased to see my former students present. Their success is my success. I am very proud of them all and honoured that they would take time out of their busy day to see their old professor!

It was a good night. The lecture lasted just over an hour and then we had approximately 30 mins for questions. People were very interested in the idea of social media as a new country that has been opened up parallel to the “real” one we live, but which is just as real to many people who participate in it, especially young people who have grown up in a social media world.

I touched on security particulars for the following social media sites, for both individuals and organizations:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • On-Line Dating
  • Geotagging
Then I discussed emergent risks that weren’t linked to any specific social media setting, but rather to more general trends as computing becomes a more fundamental part of our lives:
  • Cloud Computing
  • Surveillance
  • Facial Recognition
  • Security of information
  • Device-Specific Usage (spreading your data across a multitude of devices)
I also had a brief discussion of the concepts of trust and reputation, as foundational concepts that both individuals and organizations have to be concerned about when they use social media services.
After the talk, we had a lively discussion about how social media use is affecting our individual identities and how organizations are being affected by this seismic shift in our business and leisure cultures.
A big thanks to John Popham, from McMaster Alumni Services, who organized the talk. He did a great job!
All in all, an excellent night.
I am just getting warmed up at the Lord Elgin. (photo: John Popham)

A mind forever voyaging… seeking the Good in your life.

The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

– William Wordsworth

“An explanation of cause is not a justification by reason.” – C. S. Lewis

I have often reflected on the meaning of these verses, taken from Book Three of The Prelude by William Wordsworth and how they relate to this quote from C.S. Lewis.

We live in a world of ideas, symbols and signs. All around us, reality is pulled and stretched, tweaked and polished through words, images and narratives designed by influencers. It’s easy to lose track of reality in the midst of this vast and shifting sea. We are pulled  by currents that feel so strong, it feels impossible to resist simply giving in and “going with the flow.”

The problem is that there is nothing but flow and trends. There is no floor, no ground in this world of information. There is only influence and fitting in. The problem is that this means that the only principle in this world is power. The power of the influencer and the persuader. The power of the crowd.

The flow of meaning in the sea of culture and social life is something that we each can only glimpse a piece of, from a limited perspective. Actually, we are only ever seeing a “thin slice” of reality, and our understanding of it is coloured by our perspective. This is what makes reason and principle so important.

Let’s unpack this idea a little.

If we are swimming – perhaps treading water is a better way of thinking about it – in a sea of ideas, ideas that feel linked together and organized, we feel grounded. We wake up one morning and see something on the television, say, a fashionable new pair of shoes. We see somebody famous being interviewed in a friendly way on a morning show and, without too much make-up, wearing jeans, the person looks remarkably like us. Then the celebrity tells a personal story of how they came across these shoes and how they fit in to being modern, hip, cool and avant-garde.

It’s an alluring prospect. Someone famous who looks  quite a bit like people I know, who look and sound and feel like me. It makes it easy to think of those shoes as a part of being trendy, or – more likely – “fitting in.” And this way, it is so easy to begin to behave in an inhuman way. To lose yourself in the fantasies and visions of other people. People who would have power and control over your imagination.

Why does this work?

It’s because, as I said earlier, we can only know a thin slice of what there is to know about anything, whether it is shoes, or fashion, or politics or even the identities of our friends. The rest of what we feel we “know” about these things and people is really just smudgy background, but we assume that the smudgy background, if we looked at it closely enough, would become as crisp as the image of the shoes or the celebrity.

The thing is, it doesn’t. It’s a game of smoke and mirrors, where the only clear image is the one in the foreground.

The fact is – the smudgy background doesn’t exist. In fact, the smudgy background is the vague totality of our feelings, our self-concept, our interpretation of our experiences in the current context. It is built of a series of assumptions that we take for granted. But the shocking thing is that the background isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. It is a projection of our subconscious mind. And that is what persuaders depend upon.

That is what takes me back to Wordsworth and Lewis.

A mind forever voyaging seeks to understand – Newton was a scientist and a mystic, trying throughout his life to reconcile faith and rationality. The problem with depending on rationality is that it is easy to be limited to the sharp foreground – the sharp, high definition image of the shoes and the celebrity in the foreground of our perception. It is less good at casting light on the background. It is easy, when you are being purely rational, to focus on the most obvious, rather than to seek what’s true. To peer into the smudgy background.

That is the trap of living in a symbolic culture. We can end up trying to piece together the two-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of symbols and narratives that swirl around us. We may even be able to establish causal relationships between things: “I saw those shoes, thought that they would look good on me, and bought them.”

But this superficial causality doesn’t necessarily capture the truth or the reason behind our actions. It just floats at the surface. Reason asks us to peer into the smudgy background of our perceptions in an attempt to transcend the limitations placed upon us by our individual perspectives. Our individual perspectives which are but the sharp, blade’s edge of our experience: the knife’s edge of our experiences, raw and thin. Our perspectives in any moment, our impulses, aren’t reasoned, but they are causal. Pure rationality, without caring and love, is but a funhouse mirror image of reality. It isn’t human. It is hard and brittle. It is driven by power. Power is ugly.

The trick is to not confuse the superficially causal with the reasoned way. Human reason requires a dimension beyond pure rationality. It demands faith and love. It demands faith in love.

So back to the mind forever voyaging.

The poet, the scholar, when he or she is motivated by love, applies loving reason to his or her experiences. S/he voyages back and forth through the slipstream of experiences, and lovingly examines them. Understanding of self is born of this. Depth and caring are born of this. Agape – the brotherly love – is born of this.

So I feel that to get to the reasoned life, we have to put aside superficial causality and attempt to illuminate the smudgy background that supports it. We must ask: Why? Who benefits? How does this make sense? How does it serve the good?

When you ask yourself these questions, you start to realize what I mean by the fact that there is no ground underneath the flow. There are no trends. There is nothing to “fit into”. In the world of images, there are only influences, patterns and power. It isn’t human. Only love is human.

So what to do?

Know your heart. Seek to be loving and open and generous. Always ask what “Good” comes of the things you see. If there is no Good, then what you are seeing isn’t constructive. Rather, it is destructive. The good is generative – it builds us up, it builds our relationships. It builds communities. It builds trust.

Seek to understand what the good means in what you see and hear in your life. Then make the good your perspective on the world.

You will be amazed at how different the world of media, fashion, images, sound and narratives and relationships will look to you. How brittle. How faded. How inhuman.

Demand the good. Free yourself from the power of illusion.

Become human.

The wages of insomnia, the beauty of sleep.

Sleep is a delicious and precious and thing, isn’t it? It permits us a few precious moments of respite from the world, a heavenly journey into dreams and alternate worlds that we cannot even think of visiting in our lives in the real world. Some among us who are tired, or those who have been through difficult times in life – perhaps having lost motivation or a felt a career or personal setback – sometimes look forward to sleep as a moment of escape from life’s challenges, another country full of possibility different from the rather dreary prospects of our daily lives, or at least they seem dreary.

For some of us, though, sleep is not something that comes easily. Whether we have anxious feelings about work or our personal lives, or are simply feeling the impact of the changing of the seasons or the full moon – for some of us sleep is a country we have to work very hard to visit. Indeed, when insomnia strikes, we tell ourselves that we should really be sleeping, that it is somehow our fault that we are not. Or we think about all the things that being tired the next day will stop us from doing, and that gets us down.

Sometimes a streak of insomnia will last a week, as I recently experienced, and it becomes something to overcome. When you do, as you will inevitably do, you sleep through the night and some of the morning, and wake up feeling refreshed. What an extraordinary moment. That feeling of refreshment is worth more than a fleet of sports cars, or a pasha’s tent.

Why? Because sleep means peace of mind for us. It means rest. It means inner quiet and serenity. It means that we feel right in the world, that somehow neither today nor the prospect of tomorrow seem worrisome.

Sleep is the bridge between our days, the raft that takes us across the river separating periods of wakeful time. We can live several lives during our sleep, and when we are in a good emotional place, that can be enlivening. It can make waking up seem exciting, and new day something to look forward to, rather than dread.

Sleep is a beautiful thing. I wish you a good sleep and beautiful, inspiring dreams.

It’s good to be back at it, after a staycation!

I am someone who works tirelessly and generally very regularly. I am very disciplined and controlled, laser-focused on whatever I am doing at the time, intense. At times however, I am struck by an inability to get things done. These moments of paralysis are not unique to me, but common among academics. I have found that they are often the aftermath of a period of intensive productivity or creativity.

Academic life seems tantalizingly bucolic from the outside. Professors appear to have a lot of time to spend “idly.” This, however, is a complete misconception about what the profession is all about. A tenure-track or tenured professor deals with criticism everyday and is involved in research, teaching or service. All of these are relatively lonely practices, so the academic is used to self-motivating, often, as I said, in the face of intense scrutiny and criticism.

Now, you will point out examples to me of tenured professors who have “checked out” from their responsibilities or become bitter or jaded. You may tell me that these people are not very productive and don’t care. You tell me that they are protected by unions and tenure. Well, I wouldn’t disagree that there is a small minority in the profession who behave this way – people who feel a sense of entitlement, who don’t realise that everyday as an academic really is a privilege paid for by citizens who entrust their treasure and their youth to your guidance, mentorship and formation. But, allow me to tell you that this really is a minority position. I know of very few such lazy, jaded professors – especially at McMaster. In fact, we don’t have even have a union! I am very proud of my chosen profession and my colleagues.

So, for me, after an intense year and doubly intense spring, I took a couple of weeks off at the beginning of July. It’s really the first time that I do this in years – I haven’t had a real vacation since 2008. Although it was something of a staycation, it did allow me to recharge my mind – watch tv shows, go for walks, cook for myself.

Now I am back to work! And it does feel like a pleasure to be back. I am ready to write for the rest of the summer, as well as work on the several administrative projects I have taken on at the university and on boards in the nonprofit sector. Ready to get back to consulting as well.

It feels good to have checked out for a bit, but like many workaholic academics, I am actually happier to be back at it! Life feels exciting again and fulfilled – full of the potential for research discovery and human growth through teaching and service.

It’s good to be back.

Inaugural issue of JPC going live very soon!

I am just putting the final edits and final page layout tweaks for the inaugural issue of the Journal of Professional Communication. We have excellent content and many lively debates represented. We also have a serious policy white paper, Pathways to the Profession, which details educations pathways as outlined by the Canadian Public Relations Society. An excellent document that begins to create a system of recognition for academic programs.

Starting a journal is quite an endeavour, but definitely a pleasure. Every experience that opens new horizons of possibility for discussion is. What a satisfying and motivating idea: that our volunteer labour and the work of our paid assistants will produce an arena for debate and discussion among professional communication practitioners, academics, journalists, creatives and policy makers.

Our editorial team has been very fortunate to have the unwavering support of Dean Suzanne Crosta at McMaster University. As well, the authors have been patient as we discovered the various bumps in the road to producing a quality, fully peer-reviewed academic journal.

What a wonderful journey it has been from conception to creation to publication.

You can see the table of contents of the inaugural issue here.

JPC 1 will be going live very soon. I know the authors are excited and so am I.


A good day: bought golf clubs, planned a program, went swimming.

Today was a sporty day for me. I bought golf clubs and had a nice swim.

I went to the Ted McMeekin Golf Classic on Tuesday at the Copetown Woods Golf Club in Ancaster, where I live. That was a really pleasant day in support of a politician whom I think is truly one of the most decent and honourable people I know, Ted McMeekin. I reconnected with old friends, made some new ones, and had an all-around wonderful day with some great folk.

What that day on the links told me though was it was time to buy some golf clubs of my own. I have rented too many times. So I went to golf town and came home with a set of Callaway Diablo Edge golf clubs. They are not for golf pros, but they felt good, looked good and were very comfortable. I felt good about having my own clubs. I have always liked having my own sports equipment, even if I don’t use it as often as I should.

After that, we had an excellent planning meeting for our future PhD in Communication and New Media Practice. It will be offered through the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia (CSMM), in which I work. The same department that now hosts the Master of Communications Management executive education degree. I am blessed to work in such a great department. Our PhD will be ground-breaking for Canada, offering: Media Art & Performance; Media Culture, Politics and History; and Professional Communication.

Finally, I went for a splendid hard swim. It was the first time in months that I do this, and, Good Lord, do I miss it. It was wonderful to feel the water flowing coolly over over head and shoulders and along my body. I lost myself in the deep blue water and rhythm of my strokes. My muscles felt real and I felt alive.

I am now deliciously exhausted, sitting in my wing chair, sipping some almond milk and thinking that I won’t go without swimming for a long stretch again.

It just feels too good!

My Writing Process (Or “How I Am Productive”)

A number of people who read this blog have written to me and asked me to share my writing process, having been intrigued by recent posts on academic workflow. Many people who know me ask about how I manage to get a lot of writing (and other stuff) done. I thought I would try to cure tonight’s insomnia by writing about it in a blog entry!

I should start by stating that I am a something of an uncertified graphomaniac – I love writing and find that it is in prose that my imagination finds its best expression, and my mind can come to rest and find peace.

In fact, apart from the writing I did in school and uni, I have written quite a few scholarly articles, parts of books, a dictionary of Mìgmaq (a First Peoples language), parts of a few textbooks, many journalistic pieces and countless reports, appraisals, proposals, and grants. I have also written speeches, ad copy, packaging copy, telemarketing and sales scripts, canvass scripts, minute-by-minute plans for events, strategic plans, vision documents, and so many other sorts of technical pieces that your eyes would water.

So how do I do it?

I find that the first strategy is to give writing and thinking about writing the time that it takes. Contrary to what many people will have assured me, just forcing myself to write regularly even if what I am producing is gibberish doesn’t work for me. I need to feel driven to the page. This can happen organically, or I can nudge it by doing things that I enjoy.

Security. I need to feel safe and secure to be able to write. If I start to feel psychological turmoil, or cognitive dissonance, then I will not be able to put pen to paper. I need to feel stable, unencumbered and at peace.

Fitness. Bizarrely, I write best when I am in good shape. When I get flabby or feel ungainly, my creativity drops. I have contemplated whether this has something to do with self-esteem or whether it is truly biological. I now tend to think it is biological, since my self-esteem has always been pretty solid.

A clean house/office. I often will go through a heavy cleaning of my house or office before embarking on a new project.

Cheerful, superficial conversations with people I like or find attractive. This may be weird, but emotional intensity throws me right off when it is time to be a productive writer. This means that when I need to write, I avoid all the drama-oriented people in my life. Actually I tend to avoid them in general (unless they need my help). I particularly avoid them when I need to write. There is nothing like sweet sunshiny convo in the hallway with a nice colleague, or with a neighbour on the sidewalk or at the mailbox, just before sitting down to the keyboard.

Positive reinforcement. Having others tell me that they want me to be creative, or that it is important to them that I be creative. That’s helpful. Not sure why, but this is a really motivator.

Avoiding criticism or negativity of any kind. This is *huge* for me. When I am seeking inspiration to write, or getting into “writing mode”, I often do a variety of things that others may find they are critical of: watch silly tv shows, listen to superficial pop music, lie in all morning reading magazines, take inordinately long baths, go for a drive in a friend’s sports car, or other such banalities. When someone expresses negativity toward these things, it *really* throws me off and can mar my productivity until my brain is reset by a good night’s sleep. Sometimes one night’s sleep isn’t enough – it needs to be a night’s sleep and then immersion in escapist banalities until the negative emotional memory recedes away. If someone does this to me, even inadvertently, I have been known to viscerally avoid contact with them or harbour resentment for weeks, or even forever. Irrational, I know – probably a sort of self-defense mechanism for my productivity.

Finally, avoiding interruption. When I am on a roll, I turn off the ringer on my phone and put my blackberry away (I have always been bad with voicemail anyhow). I get into the zone, and then tune out the world.

If I can get into the zone, I can work at a writing project until it is done – producing thousands of words at a sitting.

I hope this blog entry sates your curiosity! Or that it speaks to you. Does any of this ring true?

Being productive at the Fairmont Battery Wharf in Boston.

A Peek into Academic Life: Jul & Aug is “The Writing Season”

Today, I woke up and felt like a man with a mission. A mission to write.

Academic life can seem idyllic to many outside the business: professors, especially those with tenure, can largely set their own hours, work from home, and get to interact with energetic and interesting people of all ages. While there is truth to this claim, the other, workaholic side of academia often goes undiscussed.

Academics live in a world of ideas, research, teaching and service. The service part is probably pretty familiar to most. Service in a university is very similar to service in other professions: setting up new programs, sitting on committees (admissions, hiring, student life, etc.), and participating in the governance of the university (budget committee, university planning, etc.).

The teaching component is fairly easy to understand as well. Professors spend time either lecturing (generally first or second year) or leading seminars (third and fourth year) with undergraduates, teaching graduate classes (smaller and more research-oriented) and supervising MA and PhD theses, capstone projects or major research papers. Graduate supervision is very time-consuming, because it is one-on-one, and students often need a lot of guidance, as well as moral support. It also requires that the professor have an active research program.

So what is this “research” thing that academics are always saying they don’t have enough time for? Unfortunately, the answer is not entirely straightforward. I will break it down into three, over-simplified, categories.

For “bench scientists”, research means sitting in your lab, at the bench in front of the table where your various experiments are being conducted. You spend countless hours there, observing, taking notes on paper or on a voice recorder, and working with lab assistants, grad students and post-docs. At the end of the process, you publish short articles (4-20pgs) that have many authors, who represent all of the people who worked on the project in a substantive way.

For social scientists – this includes a massive swath of the university in fields as diverse as business, health studies, kinesiology, psychology, linguistics, communications, history, etc. – doing research means going into the field and doing things such as: interviewing, conducting focus groups, doing a content analysis, participant observation, etc. This work is very labour-intensive as well, although less expensive than bench science, because fewer materials are needed. Most social science research only really requires travel money to get to the phenomenon you are researching, computers and recording equipment. It also means needing to hire a lot of people to help gather the data and then analyze it.

A third type of research might be called “philosophical” or “theoretical.” In this model, an academic works largely on his or her own, thinking through a problem, using expertise, knowledge and wisdom that he or she has accumulated. Much research in pure math is done this way, as well as much research in the humanities. This sort of research is the least costly, because it usually only means that the researcher needs a good laptop, access to a library (although this is largely happening on the Internet now), and a travel budget to visit archives, museums and other universities. Dialogue is very important for this sort of research, so the researcher will spend a lot of time discussing with other researchers and grad students. Often, this sort of research leads to publication of very long articles in journals, monographs or full-length books. Producing these takes a long time and a lot of quiet and inner peace. Often bench scientists or social scientists will conduct this sort of research later in life, when they have published enough empirical work to justify credibly writing a book-length treatise on their subject matter, usually from a philosophical or theoretical perspective.

If you are curious about me: being a communication researcher, I am somewhere between the social science model and the “theoretical” model. Up to now, all of my scholarly work has been published in journal articles or as chapters in books. I have been a co-author on a couple of textbooks, as well, which helped me work through the ideas of my field from various perspectives. I was granted tenure a few years ago in 2006, so now my aim is to take my research to the next, more theoretical level.

So when does all of this research happen? As you can well imagine, it takes a lot of concerted effort and “thinking time” to get it done. It is hard to find that time during the school year, because of the teaching and service commitments I described above. What is most difficult is that research requires large blocks of time and a measure of psychological and emotional quiet.

The only time that academics can really find this is during the summer, or when they go away on research leave. Most of my colleagues – especially the younger ones – have taken very little vacation in the many years I have known them. And during their “vacation” they are constantly thinking about and working on the research that they are obsessed with and haunted by. I have grown to believe that this is why so many young academics that I know are either single, childless or divorced. Academics also know that research is vital because it ensures that they are bringing the most modern and up to date ideas into the lecture hall and seminar room. The whole of an academic life is greater than the sum of its parts.

Modern academics, especially those who were hired for their potential as researchers at a research university, such as McMaster, where I work, live their lives through the lens of their research and writing. So summer becomes the writing season.

For me, this means working on three projects:

  • a new book, Understanding Public Relations in Canada, with two co-authors: Terry Flynn and David Estok.
  • the second issue of the Journal of Professional Communication
  • a single author book on communication theory and practice
This means a busy summer of writing for me, but one that I look forward to!


Get Adobe Flash player
%d bloggers like this: