For the last two weeks, I have been utterly consumed by logistics. I’ve come home from a trip to Utopia and a research project there, have been in the field twice locally scouting a project here, and am preparing for field work in Midwest next month. I’m starting to have dreams about losing boxes of field equipment to the airlines. At the same time, I’ve been continuing to do lots of thinking about “what I want to be when I grow up” – when I go up for tenure, or go back on the job market, what will my research program have become, in which subfield will I fit or which subfields will I straddle.
I’m coming to realize that it’s not enough to think about research in terms of grant X or paper Y, but I need to think about how the pieces reflect a coherent and self-sustaining research program. It’s nice if I have an idea and can get a grant to do a project and write a paper, but if that grant/project/paper doesn’t mesh with the rest of my scholarship, then I am spending a lot of time learning about field sites, relearning techniques, and reading the literature, rather than actually, you know, advancing my science.
Taking stock of where I am now, I have current or proposed research in four states on three pretty different topics. Maybe if I had lots of money and an army of competent, independent graduate students such a sweeping research program would be manageable, but mostly it’s just me and a few very beginning grad students and limited pot of $. Hopefully both will improve over time, but I’ve got to take care not to burn out before they do.
So I think I need to start small – and focused. When the project in Midwest wraps up, I don’t plan to continue the line of research. I may continue to work in that part of the country, because the field accommodations and free babysitting (i.e., ScienceGrandma) can’t be beat, but I’ll make sure to keep the research really closely tied to my other work. If our big proposal to work Out West gets funded, all future research in Midwest will go on indefinite hold, but if the current proposal for Out West is rejected, I’m not going to seek out more opportunities to work out there for a while. Projects in Utopia will continue to wrap up as well.
Where I really need to be geographically focused is close to home, in Mystery State. The logistics are easier (not to mention cheaper) when you can drive to your field sites in a few hours and run back to the lab if you forget (or break) a crucial piece of equipment. Grad students can visit the sites more easily and frequently too. I don’t have to totally overturn Minnow’s life if I work within commuting distance or 1-2 night trips to the field rather than fly-cross-country sort of adventures. Working close to home will also inform my teaching in way that is directly relevant to my students and may even help me feel grounded in Mystery State, where the culture, climate, and -ology still feel like a foreign land.
By choosing to be geographically focused near home, I am also choosing to effectively eliminate two lines of research that could be seen as natural out-growths of my PhD work- the -ology here in Mystery State just isn’t right. But that’s OK – I have lots of ideas for research around here. And if I stop jetting around the continent (physically and intellectually), maybe I’ll actually speed up the establishment of those projects and the production of data and papers.
All this long-range thinking and planning is fine and good, but Saturday morning I get on a plane for Midwest, and between now and then, I’ve got to finish with the logistics…