Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fools and Foolishness

I've been a reader of the Scientiae Carnival, but I've never felt particularly relevant to the women-in-science blogosphere. I still don't, but this month's topic resonated and I'm more comfortable sharing from this new space than I have been from my more personal blog.

As a grad student stepping up to her defense in approximately one month, I've been thinking a little bit lately about what got me into this mess in the first place. I don't think I would have chosen any other path, in retrospect, but I do feel that I've somehow blundered into a good situation for me, completely by accident. My adviser is great, my projects have worked out, I've gotten funding, I've managed to write, I got a job. And yet my subfield is the one that the rest of my department looks down upon, as if those of us working in it are just "playing" at science and are just too cute, or annoying, for words. I have a hard time getting access to supposedly "open department" equipment and supplies, usually because someone doing flashier science or a project with a huge budget gets bumped to the head of the line. The journals that are top in my subfield aren't particularly exciting to the rest of the discipline. And yet, I love what I do and I wouldn't have chosen a different subfield even if someone had offered me the funding and resources to do so.

I like to think it's the outside opinions that make me worry that I'm not "worthy," that I'll make some horrible mistake that will get me kicked out of academia forever. Maybe I have a little bit of Imposter Syndrome after all, or maybe it's just pre-defense butterflies. I envision the chair of my department looking at my articles with disdain, saying something like, "you think this is science?!" I worry just a little bit that I should have ignored my own preferences and tried to find a job at a larger University, where my employment would be looked upon as a step forward by my current department; I know that they consider employment at a small college just slightly better than dropping out of academia all together, and most of them think that a focus on undergraduate education is ridiculous, or at the very least a boring pursuit.

These are all small doubts that I squirrel away, which don't bug me very often, but every once in a while they show their ugly heads. I know that paying them any attention at all makes me the fool, and I hope I'll be done with the doubt when I walk out of my defense. In the end, I think I need to develop a bit more faith in my own choices, and get rid of the ego that makes me think about academic prestige even when I have very little interest in dealing with high-pressure, high-profile science. Hopefully that will happen as I orient myself as a professional instead of a student.


Shannon said...

Every time I have gone against what I want for myself and pursued the wishes my advisors/mentors/faculty have had for me, I have ended up unhappy and regretful. Only you know what will be right for you.

Eric Reuter said...

Well written, and you reach the right conclusion. Remember where you came from, and the type of academic environment that sparked and nurtured your interest in science in the first place. It wasn't a soulless research lab, it was a vibrant small undergrad setting. You've come full circle and good for you. Now you can look forward to a career fostering the same kind of meaningful personalized education, inspiration, and launching pad that got you started. Good for you.

Liberal Arts Lady said...

You're both right, and I know it. I don't think I ever would have really done things differently, but it's easy to be caught up in the atmosphere of the department you're in. I'm definitely looking forward to a more interdisciplinary and education-focused environment.