If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goals and Dreams

I haven't contributed to a Scientiae Carnival for a while and when I saw this month's topic I thought I would have to pass on it again.  I thought I had nothing much to say these days in terms of my goals and my dreams for my science and my career.  But then I started to process this reluctance and realized it was not only quite worthy of a post but an important piece of processing to do.

When I first moved to SouthLite it was easy to list my goals.  In fact several people asked me to do so and I rattled them off.  In five years I wanted to: get tenure, get an R01, get a teaching award, write a book.  Five and half years later I've achieved two out of the three: tenure & teaching award.  I no longer want an R01 and I have several book ideas that I'd love to start writing.

But if you asked me now to rattle off a plan for the next five years I would be hard-pressed for an answer.  Yes I'd like to write a book (or several books) but what else?  Do I want to be a full professor?  I used to be sure but now not so much.  Do I want external (preferably NIH) funding? (Note: I've yet to secure external funding since moving to SouthLite.)  Not really.  I should clarify: while I would like it, I'm no longer sure the effort it takes to even submit a grant is worthwhile and having one seems more of a burden than a bonus for my colleagues.  At least that is how it appears at my institution and in this economic climate.

The bigger questions are: do I want to stay in academia? Do I want to stay in SouthLite? If I want both then charging ahead for full professor and securing external grants is the way to go.  If I want to stay in academia but move someplace else than external funding is probably a must and writing a book would be seen as a colossal waste of time and energy.

The second question is the much easier of the two to answer.  I don't want to stay in SouthLite.  At least I don't want to stay here for the rest of my working career.  I figure that could easily be another 25-30 years.  b and I definitely want to live elsewhere.  SouthLite is comfortable for now and we are happy here but we are not made for the South even at its' lightest.  We are both Northeasterners by birth and Pacific Northwesterners in our souls.  If a job was available in Portland or Seattle or Vancouver, I'd be on it in a hot second.

Sometimes we dream of an even more dramatic move.  Selling the little we have and living as exPats in a country high on the life satisfaction scale.  Lately, for b, that has been Iceland.  I love the idea of making a dramatic change without a definitive plan (i.e. a job waiting for me) but I know deep in my heart I have never been that kind of risk-taker.  I am a planner, a doer and, occasionally, a dreamer but I only take very calculated risks.

Combining the academic job of your dreams with the location of your dreams takes you straight to Fantasyland.  And so I think of leaving academia.  But what would I be?  It is not just for location that I have started questioning my fit in the hallowed halls of higher education.  With tenure and the economy, I have seen both a present and a future in higher education that turns my stomach.  The parts of the career that attracted me are being replaced by the parts I like the least.  I don't see that turning around anytime soon (if ever).

But to be fair my science has also changed considerably.  I was never a great fit for my field but my current interests are driving me in a very different direction.  I have only a tenacious hold on post-positivist empirical research and am being drawn further and further into what I see more as scholarship than science.  I am interested more in thinking and writing about theory than using or testing theory.  I want to capture, honor and promote marginalized voices.  I want to advocate for change rather than predict change.

I want to write.  I write on a daily basis and I want to collaborate with people who write on a daily basis (which is really hard to find in my neck of the academic woods).  I want to write for other scholars and for nonscholars.  I want to go beyond writing.  I want to incorporate visuals, such as documentaries and portraits, into my scholarship.  I want to create interactive virtual science/scholarship events that merge science and art.  I want to find new ways to give both individuals and populations a seat at the table; a say in how we construct what it is we think we know.

I find myself at a point where I have many dreams, a few fuzzy goals, but no plan.  It is an exciting place to be. 


Seeking Solace said...

I am in the same boat. Lots of goals and dreams...just need a plan. :)

Annie said...

I'm excited for you. All of your posts have been energized lately. It seems you are in a time of transtion by choice, and that the desire for change is a positive motivator. I think it's great that you recognize that desire, and you do not find it daunting. As you said, it's a good place to be!

Joan Kane Nichols said...

As you know, I'm pretty impulsive about change-- often not a good thing. So I admire that you can rest with your desire for change as you mull over just what it is you want to do.

Good luck!