Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dreams Deferred

The recent lack of posts seems to have been caused by a massive reassessment of my "next step" in graduate school. As mentioned earlier, I found myself nonplussed by my job options with a MA, so had been considering continuing in the PhD program at Big Ag U. (Actually, I always wanted to get a PhD, but was embarrassed to say it in case I decided to quit.) But recent, encouraging discussions with faculty here have made me question the wisdom of staying in this particular program.

The central question of my dissertation is pretty well set in my mind. It's actually the same project that I came to graduate school with, but restated in a way that makes clear the intellectual underpinnings and significance to thinking about nature/culture. During the introductory class sequence of my current program I wrote up a proposal for this topic. The professors in my introductory classes gave very minimal, but positive comments. Later that year I showed it to my current advisor, who never made any written comments on it, but offhandedly, during a meeting, mentioned it was scattered, or the argument was incomplete and didn't explain why this question was important. I felt completely devastated and didn't know how to proceed. She hadn't given any comments that would direct me towards revising the proposal, so I just dropped it. I spent the next year taking classes and not coming up with an idea for a different research project.

Last spring I decided that the reason I wasn't coming up with another proposal was that I must not be experienced enough to create my own research project. So I came back to her with the idea that I would assist her with a piece of her research. I knew that she was PI on a large project and hadn't had the time or assistance needed to analyze the data. So this entire year I have been working with her to collect some missing data. It's now March and we finally got a few responses, so hopefully I will be able to write my thesis and graduate by the end of the summer. This process has given me insight into her project and the process of doing this type of research. I don't feel inspired.

It's now also clear that she may not have understood or been interested in my proposal because it didn't fit well within her discipline and research interests. She also doesn't give written feedback in my experience, which just doesn't work for me.

I could probably find another advisor within my current U, but the program is interdisciplinary and so very scattered. I would end up with a degree and possibly a well written diss, but would have little financial or networking support. Since starting the program I have worked a different job each quarter to support myself and Beorn. Each quarter I struggle to find positions and lately I have been working two jobs (30 hrs) a week to help make ends meet.

I had been thinking that I could have my coursework completed relatively soon and so be ready to start writing/collecting data. But I would have little or no support in finding research funding and no funding or networking help for attending conferences. Considering the tough academic job market, I'm starting to look favorably on applying to PhD programs with an MA and a strong, well written dissertation proposal.

Beorn will be graduating with his BS and applying to grad programs next year. I could conceivably write the diss while following Beorn to a new city and searching for work, but it doesn't seem like a recipe for success. It sounds strange, but I think we might be better off financially if I just apply to PhD programs at the same time he does. It will add at least a year to my time in grad school, but if I get more funding and stronger support for networking (attending conferences, publishing, etc) it might be worth it.

I have been pondering all of this, feeling conflicted, and so not writing for the blog. On one hand, I'm excited that my diss idea is promising, but on the other applying to new programs, moving, finding funding and all of that is daunting.


ArticulateDad said...

Follow your passions, my friend. But always keep your eyes open. If I've learned one thing from my experience, keep your work grounded, understand where your research fits into the world, not just it's place in academia. Good luck in working it all out.

Breena Ronan said...

Good point. I think my dissertation topic will lead me in a direction more likely to be useful outside academia than my current thesis work.