On knitting and academia

I used to be an academic. As I’ve started to delve into pursuing knitting as something more serious than a hobby, I’ve begun to notice a number of similarities between professional academia and professional knitware design[1].

In particular, I’m thinking about publication. In both cases, publication is very important, but doesn’t actually earn much money (with scientific journals you usually pay them to publish your work). Instead, it’s basically about publicity. Academics publish so that they look like they know what they’re doing when they apply for grants, which they need to justify spending so much time (theirs and their students’) doing the research[2].  Knitware designers publish[3] so that they can get people to look at their patterns that they’ll be able to sell enough to justify spending so much time knitting.

I’m thinking about this because I’d like very much to publish something in Knitty. Not exactly something in particular… I have a couple ideas, but mostly I just want to be published so that I can start selling patterns.

Which brings me to a problem I share with many (but by no means all) academics I know. I liked doing the work way, way more than I liked writing about it. I like writing. I even like writing about science. I like reading papers to get background for the introductions for papers I need to write. But when it’s time to sit down and actually write about something worth writing about, I’m on to the next project. I don’t want to think about the project I’ve already finished. And I have the exact same problem with knitting patterns. I have six patterns for which I have detailed notes ready to be turned into patterns that (I flatter myself) I could sell. Why don’t I just do it? And if I manage to get something submitted and accepted by Knitty for their winter issue, how can I spin that into revenue if I don’t have any other patterns ready to sell?

Anyway, that’s just stupid self-sabotage. I’m going to have to put down the knitting needles and just deal with these patterns. In the meantime, I’m going to try to scramble to get something done for Knitty’s September 1st deadline (probably mittens, which I’ll post a swatch for tomorrow, if I remember! )


  1. I have a lot of time to think about random things. Miso is still feeding every two hours, and there isn’t much I can do while feeding except watch TV, and I’ve already watched all the TV.
  2. People who aren’t in academia like to use the cliché “publish or perish” to describe academic life, and I think that shows a misunderstanding of both academic life and academic publication.

    I should note that I’m a scientist, and I know next to nothing about what life is like for academics in the arts. Also, I’ve never worked in the U.S. in any way, so things could well be different there. But in Canada, France, and New Zealand, where I HAVE worked, I’ve known a lot of academics who rarely or never publish. They don’t get fired. They presumably actually do research, and they definitely teach, and their careers are established enough (i.e., they have tenure, which we call “continuation” in NZ) that either they’re too hard to fire, or else the teaching they do is enough to cover their salaries, I guess.

    The thing is, it’s incredibly narcissistic to think that there’s any value whatsoever to doing research and then NOT publishing it. No one is so important that it’s worth paying them purely to discover things they’ll never share with anyone. And yes, ok, there are other ways to communicate discoveries, besides academic publication. And yet, the people I’ve known who do the most blogging and  tweeting also tend to have pretty healthy publication records. Go figure.

  3. I’m not talking about writing books or self-publishing patterns… I mean publishing in knitting magazines (Knitty, for example).
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