Thursday, November 20, 2008

New projects

I am almost at the point of submitting my last paper from my dissertation to a journal, so I am able to start new projects, but it's really hard to get started.

1. Making connections is not easy. My advisor is wonderful, but does little research himself, so I have a vague list of people to meet with. A senior faculty member closely associated with my advisor (i.e., it seems almost mandatory to work with her, and I like her a lot, so want to) said I could join a project that a junior member was working on, but the junior faculty hasn't answered any emails yet. I sent one in September and one in early November, and then wrote the senior to ask her whether the project still needs help.

Another senior member gave me some material, but they have already published on the area, and it's not clear that I have anything left to do with it. I can learn some new techniques and see whether they yield anything, or I could just move on until I find a better project to work on. But that requires sending more endless streams of emails to make appointments to meet more people, and also explain why I am writing so late. But I think that's what I have to do. I have a whole list of such people.

2. I am not used to not making clear progress. Of course part of academia is dead ends, but I haven't had any dead ends since beginning the last of my dissertation research about 3 years ago. All of my dissertation papers began as class projects with deadlines, so I while there was lots of work to do and small failures in the past 3 years, I had already done enough work that I knew the basic ideas were all sound.

The progress of writing is slow, but at least you know it is progress. Rarely does anyone make prose worse by editing, and writing longer just provides more material that can be distilled into a final version. I am starting to idealize the old days of struggling to sit down to write.

3. I met with the department chair first thing yesterday morning. He seems like a laid-back guy, but I sat in his class on the first day of school to see what it was like and heard him say that there are no extensions on papers because "Every minute of every day is scheduled, and when I grade papers, I block out a period of time for that and do them then. If I do not have your paper then, there is literally not a minute in my day that can accommodate more grading."

Indeed, this appointment was made a month in advance. The train has been quick and on time for the three months that I have lived here, and for the first time ever it got stopped on the tracks for 15 minutes, making me 10 minutes late for the 30 minute appointment.

It got worse once I was actually there. I told him that I had many choices to make, and wanted to ask his opinion what were the most fundable areas. He seemed to think that I was saying that I didn't fit into either the department or with my advisor. I emphasized the great number of choices that I had and wanted to ask advice from as many people as possible. And then he proceeded to tell me some specific research areas that he personally finds interesting. He didn't say anything about funding, though perhaps if he is interested in them, they are fundable.

The combination of not having clear people to work with or a project with clear potential makes me feel unbalanced.

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