Doodles and other musings of the mind

Some years ago now, a colleague of mine wrote about conditions for graduate study which not only influenced my thinking in the 1980s but still resonate today.  I have recalled these conditions and used to share them often with others especially new graduate students. But hadn’t thought much about their influence until recently when I was reflecting on the topic of this blog post.

William Harper (1980) wrote “Some conditions for graduate study” which was published in the academic journal entitled Quest (Vol. 32 Issue 2, p174).  Harper argued that there were at least four conditions for graduate study: academic quality, time to fiddle, a baggy idea of truth, and a sense of community.  The words themselves seem readily apparent in meaning and informative of that which should be a part of graduate education.

As a graduate dean, I’m often in a position to welcome incoming graduate students and encourage them along the journey through graduate study.  I have used words such as expect academic rigor and quality, demand excellence and to hold high expectations of oneself and others.  I have encouraged graduate students to work hard but to play as well (hopefully keeping a balance). I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for building a diverse and inclusive graduate education community.  In reflecting upon these phrases, there is a definite connection back to Harper’s writings for which I am grateful and wish to acknowledge.

So what about doodles?  According to Wikipedia, a doodle “is an unfocused or unconscious drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes”.  The Wikipedia entry provides interesting historical information and names of some notable doodlers.  A recent feature on Sunday Morning provided an entertaining and informative overview of “the higher purpose of doodling“.

In addition to the meaning articulated in Wikipedia and visualized on CBS, doodles are defined in multiple ways.  Doodle can be used to schedule meetings or gatherings.  And even Google has its own version of doodles – Google Doodles - doodles that are essentially re-drawings of the Google logo.

Just as there are multiple meanings of the word doodle, I consider ‘doodling’ and ‘fiddling with ideas’ as similar concepts. Even more so, the concepts underlying doodles and doodling include reflection, contemplation, and other forms of musings of one’s mind. An exciting part of graduate education is the lively and intense engagement with ideas. This can become apparent in and through our writings (including blogging) and our academic conversations ranging from the quiet moments of dialogue as well as to the noisy passionate debates.

For graduate education, academic quality is a must.  A sense of community (or communities) remains important for sharing space and place for graduate study in today’s social media rich global society.  Taking time to fiddle (to play and to play with ideas) remains critical to finding solutions to problems and preparation for the grand challenges of tomorrow.  Innovation and creativity must be at the core of scholarly inquiry and thereby keeping a “baggy idea of truth”.
All of us should find the “time to fiddle” with ideas and to engage with a “baggy idea of truth”.  Progress toward transformation and changes in higher education are dependent upon the musings of our minds especially as manifest through innovation and creativity.  What are your musings? your contemplations? your doodles?  Time to doodle.

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