For weeks now, I have been reading research statements by faculty from many different departments on campus. Each statement is supposed to be as devoid of jargon as is humanly possible, and if one must use a technical term, the term must be defined. Most faculty from science and engineering departments make an obvious effort to avoid jargon in their research statements (though there are some spectacular failures at this), perhaps because we are aware that much of what we do is incomprehensible to most people.
And then there are the research statements from humanities faculty.. Nothing makes me more aware that I am a Scientist and have moved far away from my liberal arts roots than reading research statements by faculty in English, history, philosophy, and so on. I find most of the humanities statements very hard to understand. Fortunately there is a diverse committee evaluating these, and I learn a lot from discussing the files with colleagues from other departments.
My 2 main problems with comprehension of the humanities statements are: (1) when an unfamiliar term is defined, it is typically defined using one or more other unfamiliar terms; and (2) the extensive use of "quotation" marks "around" so many "words". Worse is when both occur in one sentence: e.g., Professor X has developed the novel idea that the literature of the Baltic states was strongly influenced by the unconscious retransfixation of "trees"(that is, the trans-identity of the arboreal "mind"). [note: I made that sentence up] I suppose that the quotation marks signal that a "word" might have lots of meanings for different people from different cultures or experiences and we don't want to limit ourselves to a single meaning as that would be "confining" or even hegemonic.
Eventually, we work these issues out in discussion -- the committee has broad representation from the sciences and humanities. One of the reasons this is a committee I actually like being on, despite the major time commitment, is because it is one of the few opportunities I have to meet and talk with faculty in other departments/colleges. Despite my lack of comprehension of some of the research statements, I do rather like reading them and getting a broad view of what's going on at the university. That's part of the fun of this professor job.
6 months ago