Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 Questions Series - Will Duffy

1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?

I located a subject that had theoretical as well as pedagogical implications. That's the short answer. The slightly longer answer is that I stopped trying to invent a topic that felt dissertation-y or book-y and instead took an assessment of the questions/challenges/ideas that I found myself confronting as a scholar and teacher at the moment. The project I'm working on right now is about collaboration, which became important to me when I started co-writing with a friend in grad school. We enjoyed the process of co-writing, but we also couldn't explain why it worked. That gap is what I find myself now trying to bridge with this project. It sounds cliche, but I believe the most important projects are waiting right in front of our noses.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?

My first year out of grad school, I started making "semester plans" at the beginning of each term that consisted of identifying the projects I wanted to complete. I had calenders with swaths of dates filled in with things like "Research Jon Stewart essay" and  "Draft Jon Stewart essay" and "Plan summer course" --you get the idea. Then I marked deadlines and submission dates, many of which were arbitrary. But we need these kinds of self-imposed deadlines as scholars. What I found is that making these calendars worked. I got stuff done even as I was teaching a full load. I did do something like this when I was writing my dissertation, but I definitely could have started this practice much earlier.

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?

Trying to maintain the attitudes necessary for being an effective teacher and successful academic. For example, when does shrewdness (positive) inflate into competitiveness (negative)? When does patience (positive) atrophy into laziness (negative)? The list goes on and on...

4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?

I love thinking about how the world works, and being an academic makes me a professional "thinker" in this regard. Taken to an extreme, however, this idea makes you into a pompous jerk, so, you know, see #3 above. 

 5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

Was it Stanley Fish who quipped that being interdisciplinary is so very hard to do? Whoever it was, I think that idea is a crock. I'm a rhetorician, so I basically have built a career on the backs of other fields of study. The sociologist Clifford Geertz suggested that it's when academic fields of study borrow from one another that novelty occurs. I agree. I think it is crucial to have feet in at least one or two other disciplines other than your "home" field.

Will Duffy teaches at Francis Marion University. He has a website:


  1. Fabulous idea to create such interesting things like that.Amazing!!
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  2. I totally agree with Will that you can come up with a dissertation topic that you can be interested with rather than trying to find a topic that you can’t enjoy. It is true that dissertation writing can be hard, but it should be boring and dull. As much as possible, you can have fun writing it so that you enjoy every bit of time writing it.