Why academics should have an annual physical AND intellectual
August 14, 2012
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I just went for an annual physical. Aside from seeing doctors related to having swine flu and babies, I haven’t had an actual physical check ups in the last ten years. So I was surprised to learn that I have hypothyroidism, a condition that if left untreated, upsets the balance of chemicals in my system and can have all kinds of negative effects. Fortunately, knowing this, I can easily treat it. I began to think about the annual physical and how remiss I have been not to schedule it. Thankfully, due to this condition, I will have to be much more vigilant.
As an academic and creative person, I also wonder about the parallels for cognition and the critical mind. While there is some debate among doctors about the merits of the annual physical, I would like to strongly recommend that all scholars undergo the figurative parallel: an annual intellectual. Many of us have the good fortune to live long healthy intellectual lives in the academy, comfortable in our disciplinary domains, teaching a familiar list of courses, referring to an enduring theoretical foundation. There is much to be said for constancy but the intellectual mind also requires annual check ups. There are so many ways that we have for checking up on the health of our thinking–attending professional conferences, reading recent issues of academic journals to which we subscribe, challenging ourselves to teach new courses and update old ones. This advice to have an annual intellectual is one that most of us follow as part of our professional practice. Naming it as such simply reminds me to test and measure intellectual health in an expansive way, asking myself: in what ways has my thinking changed? What new concepts and ideas have I learned by engaging in my own varied professional development? What do new and varied kinds of students and young professors have to say about concepts and ideas I have long taken for granted? How are field specific conversations taking place outside my program, department, university, region, and nation? What kinds of activities might charge up my pedagogy and thought? What new genres are available? New media and mediums for healthy exchanges of ideas and foundations for new forms of action?
I am so happy that by taking the time to have a blood test, I have the opportunity to be more vigilant about my health and wellness. I look for the same kinds of opportunities for the mind–testing my ideas with a new cohort of students from China and Taiwan, diving into the process of writing poetry with a diverse group of educators, stirring with ideas at fall conferences such a Georgia TESOL and the Annual meeting of American Anthropologists.
Good intellectual health is as complicated as good physical health and requires a great variety of activity.
What are your practices for staying healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Perhaps we can take time to exchange ideas!