The Research Lifecycle: Seeing it Through and Starting Anew

Jenna Lay is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department of Lehigh University. 

The academic lifecycle is an unusual one. Years unfold in months-long stretches of time: fall and spring semesters devoted to teaching and running academic programs; summer, as Nicholas Sawicki suggests in his post, offering time for larger projects, writing, and travel—like the archival work Elizabeth Dolan describes. The rhythm of an academic career offers similar ebbs and flows, as the boisterous conversation of graduate coursework transforms into the solitary discipline of a dissertation, which, in turn, enables the intellectual growth that will foster new forms of engagement in the classroom and in a broad range of communities.

As a pre-tenure faculty member at Lehigh, I spent the last six years building on that foundation: transforming the knowledge and skills gained through graduate study into the research, teaching, and service that structure academic days, months, and years. I can now hold the most material of these transformations in my hands: my first book, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture, was published this month by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

With my book’s publication, I’ve been thinking about the research lifecycle, and especially about how scholars transition from one project to the next. Watching my words evolve from malleable files on my computer to the relative fixity of a printed book, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a research project is never truly complete: that the questions answered will inevitably spark new ideas and areas for exploration. And yet this is still a summer of endings and beginnings, of one project completed and another just developing. In this blog post, I’ll say a bit about what a transitional period like this entails: what did my summers look like when I was working on Beyond the Cloister? How does this summer differ?

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