What might you learn with an open mind?


“I can make a difference with my ideas.” At a Research I institution they are training you to become a leader in your field. The goal is to make advances in theory, practice, policy, and otherwise through original academic research and collaborations.  99% of academic debate is chasing the idea (with only 1% being personal…). This wisdom reminds me of some of my daily mantras: Believe in your own work. Be confident. Be patient. Be persistent. In this same vein, Suzzane Collins eloquently wrote, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” I have come to understand that through such hope and belief in one’s ideas, that leadership in scholarly activity may emerge.


“It’s not always about having the answer. It’s about the process of inquiry into an idea.”  This requires long-term thinking. This inquiry into questions also gets stronger when we have a greater sense of the history and direction of the work. In talking with others, and in engaging with them about their ideas, consider ways of framing questions and critiques in ways that further encourage discussion about the process of thinking. It is good, and often productive to push on ideas. Challenging ideas, and not people, is the nature of the academic dialogue.

To inspire my writing, I have gone back to literature on what others have done in related areas, specifically around translations between representations. With a lens on the theoretical approach to studying student conceptions and activity, I have garnered a greater sense of how my work fits with or complements, as well as differs from the approaches of other scholars. The process of inquiry into ideas, both others and my own, has pushed my thinking and subsequent writing in productive directions.


If I’m no longer looking for approval, then what? Teach your ideas. As a student, you may have been looking for approval from your professors. As you transition to a postdoctoral researcher, and later to a permanent position (in academia or industry), you are now the one who is going to teach. What are the ideas you have to teach me? And why do they, or should they matter to the field of inquiry? Your ideas have merit. You have merit. I encourage you to teach me those ideas.

“The best way to learn is to teach.” To find clarity in ideas, do a thought experiment about teaching. How would you teach this idea? How would you build a course around a chapter of your dissertation? This is especially helpful for me as I think about writing several papers from my dissertation research. From the frame or perspective of teaching, I gain so much more clarity in my ideas and how I want to convey them to the world. I have something to teach the world, and I’m going to write about it in these journal articles. Of course, in putting this idea into practice, one must also have the confidence and belief that the ideas matter. Thus when a sustained process of inquiry and teaching are taken together, true progress can be made.


“Rejection” is part of the “building and expansion” of ideas. The harshness of “REJECTION” can greatly impede clarity. One important lesson is to consider the fact that “10% is writing, and 90% is revision.” In my first attempts at breaking into the world of publishing in research journals, I was advised that writing for research journals is hard work, and one goes through more rounds of revision and drafts of manuscript that one might ever want to.

If we approach the writing process from a mantra of “don’t take anything personally” (one of the four agreements), we may view reviews of manuscripts in one of three ways: (1) reject it, (2) accept it, or (3) consider it. Each reviewer will approach a manuscript from their own experience and knowledge, the ideas they present for ways to revise and improve the work reflect their stance, and are not directed at the person, but rather the form and substance of the ideas on the page. In framing rejection in a productive way, one might sort through comments that (1) you disagree with thus do no need to attend to in revision, (2) ideas that you agree with and thus can readily attend to in revision, and (3) those ideas that you take time to consider. “What can I learn form this?” “What do these alternative perspectives have to offer?” “How am I being asked to build and expand my ideas?”

What’s the narrative? In building clarity in your writing, in putting your pen to the page, ask yourself: What’s the story you’re going to tell? Craft the idea itself around this story. Telling a story in your writing helps convey the take-away message in a clear and compelling way.

So what? This is such a central question in writing. An approach to writing is to consider it a persuasive essay. After each sentence, after each paragraph, stop and ask yourself–so what? Why does this matter? Who am I convincing? And why?


“The story never ends.” In this metaphor, the “story” is the “thinking process.” Thought is ongoing, and it is in our nature as humans to think. The persistence of thought is what makes the world go round in academia. My efforts will be focused on the belief in my own ideas. The hope that is stronger than fear. The inquiry into new ideas. Teaching others my ideas as a way to advance the field. And finding clarity in my ideas and intentions, taking one step after another, not looking to the top of the mountain, but instead, toward each next step, however small.

Footnote: This short essay was informed by several enlightening and uplifting conversations, three of particular import. First, with a fellow academic in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Second, with a mentor and yoga instructor, following a Dharma talk at Perennial Yoga and Meditation. And third, in conversing about the peer review of a manuscript I had written for (eventual) publication in a peer-reviewed research journal.

I am indebted to my friends who have shared several things with me from their own training, experience, and wisdom that have been garnered from various academic and spiritual advisors. It is because of my openness to learn these new ideas that I am able to learn and grow from this wisdom.

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