What does it mean to be “Scholarly?”

Keeping off the street and out of Trouble

So after the first trip to Nepal in 2007 I wrote a 100,000-word book. ” Narrative non-fiction” – Then I compiled a FaceBook page; now up to 3950 ‘fans.’ Then I generated a pile of emails. I started a blog that is RSS-interlinked to five locations; and also gave radio interviews and made a few dozen public appearances with PowerPoint slides. To say nothing of sitting in booths at conventions with boxes of books to sell. All this without being “scholarly,” which according to the rules of academia means that none of it counts toward ‘professional advancement’ such as tenure. Shameless self-promotion. I am the P.T. Barnum of my own life.

And now, I finally have something to say, in the scholarly academic sense of contributing to the world’s knowledge. (Or do I?).

Writing in a way that means something?

By that I mean, I am seriously considering whether to conjure up two thousand words to submit to a bonafide academic publication, on the topic of this summer’s project. I have planned out and adopted a particular teaching approach; chosen specific course content; and set up a class for the purpose of advancing nursing science in Nepal. The collection of decisions made, constitutes a hypothesis as to what will work and what will not. The subject is critical care nursing skills. The approach is to incorporate principles of community development in the teaching strategy. For comparison, I can point to other projects here in Nepal which adopted a different approach to the teaching of critical care nursing skills. And the obvious discussion is the merits of adopting methods developed in a post-colonial context. To evaluate the effectiveness of this project, the data collection can be as simple as querying the participants. Maybe it is not laboratory-bench research, but I could write it up – And voila!


Is Diarrhea ever scholarly?

There have already been ironies along the way, in my reporting of previous trips to Nepal. The first one that randomly comes to my mind is recounted in the book – about me and Al the UK med student doing CPR and getting the patient’s emesis and diarrhea all over the knees of our trousers. At that moment I really did ask myself what the people at UH would think if they saw me now….some of my colleagues come to work every day with not a hair out of place. That was one of the moments in 2007 when I *knew* that I had strayed well afield of Ivory Tower academia.

Even on a good day in Honolulu, I’m a tad rumpled. The Dean once stopped by my office. Surveying the scene she asked – why the clothes rack – I told her it’s because I bike to work and change when I get there. She has never once asked about my Maoist flag.

Keynote Speaker Available – references upon request

Continuing to mine the vein of irony, fast forward to a faculty colleague who was jealous that I was approached to be the keynote speaker at a national meeting last year. “You don’t even have a PhD,” she said.

Ouch! A tad jealous.

I kept my mouth shut but what I was thinking was, “how many people have read your dissertation? A dozen? Two dozen? What have you done to promote the scholarly theme of your life’s work?” Even though my book was not a best seller and has flaws, at least it’s been read by a few thousand people. I have thirty reviews on Amazon dot com, not including any of the feedback my mother gave (for the record, she thought the book was nice. I love my mom.) I went out of my way to get articles in the various ANA newspapers published by A.L. Davis, and 400,000 nurses have received a publication in which the title and premise were at least mentioned. (In truth, they didn’t exactly rush out to get their copy but at least they heard of it one time). And I have managed to write articles about the topics of the book, a sort of double-dipping. I made three book tours.

The people who asked me to keynote at NSNA in front of 800 people said “we picked you because you are out of the box.”


My previous rejection of “scholarly writing” reflects a conscious choice I made about readability. To be scholarly I would have needed to submit my work to a committee of learned men and women who would have insisted on editing. No poetic license allowed. None of them, in all likelihood, would have been able to evaluate what the experience, and hence the book, was about. Hey, I myself was halfway through the writing before I divined the meaning of it all!

Realistically, any book-length work would have been caught in the academic maelstrom for five years, and even if was still floating there, no worthy sailor would grab it. The book would be as-yet-unpublished, to boot.

Glad I got it over with when I did.

I suppose I should get a PhD using this work as a starting point, but that raises another question: in nursing? No, it’s more of a medical anthropology experience than anything else.

The Grant-seeking Game

Most doctorally-prepared nurses nowadays are expected to apply for research grants, and any school that employs them will have an organized program of research with a focus. I’d have to be part of this; I’d have to give up or curtail clinical teaching, which is my bestest mostest funnest ever. There is nothing quite so amazing as what I do: I initiate young adults into the eternal mysteries: life, death, and everything in between. Lots of “firsts” – first injections, First time talking with a person who was dying, that sort of thing.

And also, from a cost-benefit viewpoint, I am too old to benefit from a PhD. Life is too short.



About Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

These blogs, and my books, and videos are written on the principle that any person embarking on something similar to what I do will gain more preparation than I first had, by reading them. I have fifteen years of USA nursing faculty background. Add to it fifteen more devoted to adult critical care. In Nepal, I started teaching critical care skills in 2011. I figure out what they need to know in a Nepali practice setting. Then I teach it in a culturally appropriate way so that the boots-on-the-ground people will use it. One theme of my work has been collective culture and how it manifests itself in anger. Because this was a problem I incorporated elements of "situational awareness" training from the beginning, in 2011.
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2 Responses to What does it mean to be “Scholarly?”

  1. nepal blogs has a short post on ur blog.

    read it here

    best of luck

  2. Nancy Starkie says:

    You should get a PhD in Inspiration!

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