Monday, April 28, 2008

A shift in importance

My initial interest in my discipline began with fieldwork - I loved the idea of applied science, and if that got me outside, potentially to other countries, sign me up! Beyond the subject itself, which is still (and will hopefully remain) something that gets me out of bed in the morning, I liked the sense of adventure and discovery that just wasn't matched by lab- or computer-based work. A good field season sometimes makes all the rest of it more meaningful and important (or at least tolerable!).

I've been working in Africa for most of my student career; my dissertation work is in one country, but I've worked in others as an undergrad, on graduate field courses, and as a warm body on other field projects. I love that I get to travel and interact with people from other cultures in a very non-tourist fashion. I started out as a gung-ho, I'll-suffer-anything-for-the-project undergrad, and although I've really enjoyed the majority of my field time, over the past few years I've become much more reluctant and resigned to field work as actual work that also takes me away from my home life.

I'm not sure if this has more to do with experience or the fact that I'm getting old and moving into some kind of "adult" phase where home is more important, but I'd sometimes honestly rather be hanging out with Partner and getting regular showers than dealing with the rigors of field life, despite its perks.

As a younger person I had visions of myself as more research-oriented, discovering the undiscovered, etc. Now I find myself equally interested in teaching, and looking forward to a little less pressure on the field work front. This is probably a good thing, because high-end field projects may be out of reach in the long term at a small college. I hope to stay active research-wise, but I'm a little surprised by my lack of concern about giving up the majority of my research activities. Apparently, I have grown.


T said...

I hear you about fieldwork as actual work, esp. as I get older and can't just pack my real life away for 1-3 months, but don't become complacent. I've heard the complaint leveled, sometimes rightly so, that SLAC professors don't always keep up with their research. Maybe you needn't go into the field at the breakneck speed of some, but don't settle down too much. Bring Partner with -- I'm sure he'd be useful! :)

Liberal Arts Lady said...

Thanks for the input, and yeah I should keep that in mind. I'm looking at this coming summer as "time off" when I really should be getting grants written, manuscripts submitted, etc., not to mention prepping my class, which I have no experience doing.

I'm not too worried, yet, since my current plan of "less research" in my mind means only ONE four-week field season in the winter, with maybe a few weeks in the summer and more time spent on something in North America for once. I'm still in the "I don't have time to participate in everything, damn it!" stage of figuring out what I'll be doing...I do hope to keep some momentum. And yeah, Partner would definitely be useful..I'm submitting security forms for him, just in case he's free.

Eric Reuter said...

It's entirely natural to start to settle in at some point. Not everyone does, but most do. It's not weakness, or old age per se, it's just part of the arc of human life. 8 years ago, would you have ever thought I'd be so settled that I couldn't even take a single night away from home and might get to travel once a year? I sure would have laughed if told that. Yet circumstances change, people change, and you adapt to what's best for you at any given time.

I do second T that it's dangerous to get TOO comfortable. I think a good rule of thumb for teachers at any level is "if you're not learning, you have nothing to teach". Make sure you are always learning and researching, so that you always have new things to pass along. The worst teacher is the one still coasting on what they learned years ago.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I envy people who love field work. I feel like an oddball in my discipline for preferring the lab. Even though you'll be cutting back on field work, won't it be fun to introduce it a little to your new undergrads?

Congratulations on your defense. :)