Science vs. – not science?

When I answered the questions for the paper in the Berliner Morgenpost, I had trouble explaining how and where I find the time I invest in the volunteer work for refugees. The answer I gave was not very satisfactory – luckily, the article does not reflect this lack of precision. But of course, I have been thinking a lot about the meaning and consequences of my time management of the past 3 weeks. Instead of working the usual 50 to 60 hours a week for the good of science, I am probably closer to 40, occasionally 30 (which feels like almost not working at all).


In the big scheme of things, it is all but lost time. Even from the point of view of me as someone working at the University, the usefulness is obvious: I am contributing to building up structures that will integrate my students of tomorrow much better and much faster. From the point of view of my personal scientific curiosity, it is thrilling to come closer to the social impact of didactic, a topic I had never really paid much attention to until now. From the point of view of my Academic career – now let’s look at that from another angle.

I have now spent about as much time in this endeavor as I did over the summer copy-editing a volume for my collection (it should be on the bookshelves by the end of the month, is going to print on Tuesday and will be announced online from that moment on, I will post it then). Now this volume is going to impact – let’s be optimistic – maybe 30 to 50 scholars, max. Still, it is considered more important than what I am doing now. That feels a little bit odd. What is it that really contributes to science, its dissemination,  its actuality? It does not all have to be about societal impact, especially not in the way we drop it as a buzzword in grant applications. I see it more as a social responsibility.

What I mean is this: As a scholar – as an intellectual -, you can of course proceed with your daily work and have big ideas about the world and complain that is does not work properly. You can also bring in your competence and knowledge where it is needed. I have learned so much in my time as a junior group leader – especially about team management – that I can contribute to the efficiency of the organisation in a decisive way. And not only do I get to meet amazing people, I also get to look differently at language and culture -which is, really, my job.

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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