I often distill my academic year in terms of teaching, advising, and research. I will go very briefly over these topics because I think this year I have other important things to talk about.
Similar to other years, I taught 5 courses this year. Three in the first semester, and two in the second semester. One thing that definitely worth mentioning was the open source development course that I conducted with my faculty colleague, Filipe Saraiva. This course was a huge success both for us (professors) and for the students. Many months after the courses, I still receive good feedback from students that participated in the course. I also wrote a blog post about this course here, which, unfortunately, is in Portuguese.
Over this year, I also reflected a bit about teaching. In the first years of my academic path, I saw teaching as an obligation. Interestingly, this year I started to change my perception about teaching, in particular, due to this open source discipline that I enjoyed a lot. Although I do believe that still I place much more effort in research than teaching, this year I started to understand that teaching could be as effect as research (or sometimes even more effective than research) in changing the future. Obviously, research could lead to fundamental breakthrough that could change the lives of millions of people (like when we found the cancer cure), but it often takes decades of a collaborative effort of several researchers. Teaching, on the other hand, is an individual effort that could lead to eventual great changes in one young mind. Strangely, I’m both glad and sad that I realized it now. Sad because I may not supported many students that I already worked with, but I’m glad because I realized still in the early days of my career.
In terms of advising, I still have a small number of students. This year, one master student graduated, and I have been working with three other undergrad students. I still do not have any phd student (although I co-supervise one student). I somehow managed to have seven papers accepted with these students, including one in the ICSE-SEET track (which received the best paper award).
This year I published 17 papers. For me, it was a lot. More than a lot, it is unsustainable in the long term. I don’t see myself publishing the same amount of papers this 2020 year. Papers take a huge effort to be published. And effort here can be translated to both time and money. When you are in the academic whole, you just write. Sometimes you see yourself with just too many upcomming deadlines. You don’t even have the time to think about other research problems; you are always late with your writing. Although it may sound fancy for outsiders that you write a lot, in the reality, there is nothing fancy here. After dozens of hours writing introductions, related works, methods, results, and conclusions, you pretty much understand the tips and tricks of paper writing. One page becomes easy to add because you could just write that long boilerplate sentence that adds too little information. Figures with beautiful workflows and generous margins also help. Eventually, you see yourself writing without thinking. This is no good.
A lot of writing also takes time that I could spend with students. This year I realized that basic things such as listing to students complaining about their lives means a lot to them. Sometimes they don’t have anyone to hear their thoughts.
If this was not enough, there is also the money problem. Publishing papers takes a lot of money. Brazilian researchers are facing the toughest crisis in its educational scenario. There have been a sequence of cuts in research programs, and it exacerbated this year. It means that today it is much harder to find research funding to attend a conference and present a paper. With this writing pace, you have to figure out how to find money in this scarce funding situation much more often.
Why am I doing this?
As I briefly mentioned above, this 2019 year was very tough for anyone in Brazil that works in education. Actually, it was tough for many other citizens that did not support the elected right wing president. I will however focus on the educational side which is the one that I work and eventually understand a bit more.
Long story short: we elected a fascist, racist, authoritarian, and misogynistic right wing president. The president governs for himself and his family. He and his ministers are working hard to shutdown many long term educational and research programs in Brazil. He is interfering in the Dean elections in public universities. He delayed many months to send the money that public universities require to operate. And many other things that do not worth mentioning.
While doing this, he was very active in the news suggesting that professors are “idiots”, that researchers in public universities plan cannabis, that students should make movies of professors that are making “ideological indoctrination”.
Although some comments are just stupid, I have to say that I was heavily impacted by his discourse. I quit twitter for two months this year just to avoid reading such toxic content regularly. To make the things worse, many friends and relatives started to share the same line of thinking. If a good part of the society believes that professors are idiots, what should I do?
I spent a good part of the second semester thinking about what is my role here. What is the value of my work to the society? Who is benefiting from this paper? For many weeks (months?), I was unable to answer most of my own questions. During this time, I started to see little value on my work. Why the hell I’m doing this?
While I was looking for answers, for the first time I started to consider that I may be in the wrong career. Since it was hard to see any value on my work, it was even harder to make progress in my research work. Should I look for jobs in the industry?
I also thought that this is not my problem. Maybe I’m just in the wrong country. What if I move to a country that values the work that professors do? Would these thoughts gently disappear?
Although I don’t have answers for all these questions, at least I spend some good time reflecting on them. So far, I think that (1) Yes, I’m in the right career, (2) No, I will not move to anywhere. Now is when Brazil is more desperately in need of professors, (3) Yes, I will keep researching.
More importantly, however, only these days I realized what is my role here (in part, at least). My role here is not to publish dozens of papers per year. My role here is to improve my (and help others to improve their) critical thinking. In the era of fake news, critical thinking is perhaps the best weapon to fight misinformation. Critical thinking is about questioning. Curiously, research is also about questioning.
My 2020 plan is to keep researching, in particular if it helps someone to improve her critical thinking. With this goal in mind, I would also “write less and think more” (as prof Margaret Storey anticipated in her ICSE19 keynote).