You know them as the people who stand in front of the classroom, but did you know most of your professors are published writers?
When they’re not grading your papers or preparing you for your future studies and career, you can expect your professors to be doing research, writing papers and crafting books based on their research and analyses.
Five professors at Stony Brook explained what they do, what motivates them and how they find a creative balance between their writing, research and teaching.
Celia Marshik, Ph.D., academic chair and professor in the English department, teaches and writes scholarly books on the culture and literature of the early twentieth century.
“Some semesters make sustained writing impossible — I may be able to work at it for a week or so, but then all bets are off,” Marshik said, adding that when she finds that balance, she tends to write during the mornings for about 30 minutes to an hour for the majority of the week.
Marshik said that she can almost always find some time for writing and keep up her creative progress. This allows her to have a proper balance between her writing and her role as a professor. As rigorous as it is, her love for teaching literature and for contributing to discussions based on her field of study keeps her motivated to continue writing, researching and teaching.
For Wolf Schäfer, Ph.D., a professor of history and science and technology, most of his time is currently consumed by doing research. Schäfer came to the U.S. from Germany in 1989 and he has been teaching at Stony Brook for 28 years. He is currently dedicating all of his time to his most recent project, a book with the working title “Dark Words Plus Winds of Change,” which will answer the question, “How did Donald Trump win the election?” When asked how much time it takes out of his schedule, he stated, “All the time when I am not teaching, and half the time when I am teaching.”
Schäfer said that he balances his research and teaching evenly while engaged in both, but is currently dedicating his time to research. After about four decades of publishing books, teaching a wide range of courses and giving presentations around the world, Schäfer said he wasn’t sure what has motivated him to keep going but that he loves doing what he does.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Ph.D., an English professor, said that his love for his craft keeps him at it. Phillips said that the motivation for his work is the same thing that motivates him to continue breathing. “It’s what I need to do to be myself, what I need to do to be who I am,” Phillips said.
He creates poetry in addition to writing essays and articles and tries to inspire his students to succeed in the future.
“Hopefully, I help prepare students for the world that awaits them after graduating from Stony Brook,” Phillips said, adding how he feels that, “being literate, thoughtful, empathetic, a reader: this is the work of creating a citizen, which I think is at the heart of our objective as literature professors.”
Instilling this message into students relates to his job just as much as his writing and research.
“Obviously, I’m not working on my own work while I’m teaching a course or grading papers,” Phillips said, speaking to his ability to find equal balance between his own work and his teaching.
Justin Johnston, Ph.D., an English professor of five years at Stony Brook, has been hard at work on an upcoming book with the working title “Post-Human Capital: Biotechnology in Contemporary Literature.” According to Johnston, his research “looks at the question of how the human is formulated, or thought about, described, imagined, figured, within literature.”
In addition to teaching, advising dissertations and committee work, his writing has consumed a great portion of his weekends, evenings, nights and if he finds the time, mornings. Johnston said that balance is something that he has yet to figure out.
“Sometimes you can see the potential stakes of what you do — of intellectual work,” Johnston said, stressing the importance of, “the way people conceive and think of the world around them,” and how that changes over time.
“Understanding how that has happened throughout history and trying to contribute to what the future could be through your work, through your research — I think is incredibly rewarding,” Johnston said.
Michael Tondre, Ph.D., teaches English, does committee work, researches and serves on the editorial board for the journal, “Victorian Literature and Culture.” Tondre describes writing as a large part of the job and contributes it to ongoing conversations in the field of Victorian studies.
He just finished writing “The Physics of Possibility,” which, according to Tondre, is about Victorian scientists working with literary ideas and how novelists were contributing to and appropriating their works, and he is already working on his next book about oil culture. As this requires great dedication and planning, he tries to do some writing every day which gets him, “in the mode of constantly thinking about ideas.”
To find balance, Tondre feels that sharing work with people, having firm deadlines and using a firm time table suffices.
“I think having a kind of community to share ideas with, regardless of one’s occupation, is helpful in staying grounded and inspired to keep going,” Tondre said.
After your professors finish their lectures, ask them about their research. You just may find somebody to collaborate with in the future.