Monday, November 7, 2011

Lessons of Grad School #2 - Research

I was sick of seeing the last post so I'm posting a new one. So, here's some more thoughts on things I wished I'd known before I went to grad school.

Be Careful What You Research

For those of you reading this and still, somehow, laboring under the delusion that you can research whatever you want in grad school, let me disillusion you. Or rather, let you know of some possible consequences of your choice.

The Set-Up

I planned to research a specific topic when I went to grad school: The Tea Drinking Habits of Dormice. However, after several years trudging my way through classes, dealing with faculty, and surviving comps I found that this topic no longer interested me. I wanted to change my research to the Chair Switching Behavior of Hares in relation to Dinner Conversation. No biggie, right? You can research whatever you want, yes?


My advisor specialized in dormice, not hares or dinner conversation. Ze actually didn't mind my switching research topics. Most of my fellow grad students work on the lack of time management skills among white rabbits. Chair Switching Behavior was at least different. Ze's excited - or at least mildly interested - in the idea. What more could a grad student ask for? Ze gave me the go ahead to start researching. Awesome. I did the background research, created a whole new research design, and got to work. Proof you can research whatever you want, right?

The Fall-Out

I did it pretty much on my own. I couldn't piggyback on my advisor's grants. Ze wasn't comfortable introducing me to people in the field of Chair Switching Behavior, Hares, or Dinner Conversation since ze didn't work in those fields. So, I had to work to get my work into conferences on my own. I didn't even get decent feedback when my grants were rejected. I didn't get the automatic legitimation that comes from putting your advisor's name on your work as an author. I did it the hard way. This has likely advanced my burnout a bit further than usual. And, to add insult to self-induced injury, I now wouldn't trust my advisor to write me a letter of rec since ze has never worked with me nor observed my teaching. What would ze say, "Didn't bonk?"

Why do I call it self-induced injury? As annoyed as I am with academia, academic culture, the Ivory Tower, the fallacious meritocracy, what-have-you, this particular problem I brought on myself. I knew doing my own research was not the easy road. My advisor even told me that not working on what ze worked on was going to be a harder road. I didn't walk into this one blind. I just didn't think it would be THIS hard. The upside is that even after years of research on the topic, 1) I still think it's interesting and 2) writing my dissertation doesn't put me to sleep nor makes me want to do a self-lobotomy with a plastic spork. I would never get a job with my work on Chair Switching Behavior of Hares in relation to Dinner Conversation. It's considered lunatic fringe in my field. Dormice and White Rabbits are much more in vogue. However, since I'm leaving academia for a variety of other reasons, I'm rather happy with my choice of research.

If all goes well, I'll go out in a blaze of insanity that will one day be deemed ahead of its time and cited a thousand times over on Google scholar. If that happens, please let me know. I'll hopefully have a life by then and won't need to check Google for number of citations for a tenure portfolio. Anyway, these days I'm becoming more interested in the Power Dynamics of Tempestuous Authority Figures on Playing Cards and Chess Pieces - but that's a story for another post...and also a subject that would not get me tenure.

1 comment:

anthea said...

Good post. Well, done for having pointed out that its really crucial to know that you have to be caerful about what you do research on. It's not just the topic that you're dealing with...but so much more as you've highlighted here.