Three papers, an introductory chapter and some broad conclusions. Those are the ingredients of a Ph.D. dissertation in it’s simplest form.
That recipe doesn’t tell you anything about all the blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights that go into those papers. It doesn’t mention how your personal and professional identity gets inextricably tied up with the subject for the time it takes to do the work and publish the papers. It doesn’t hint that those papers help define you as a scientist, get you a real job, and make a name for yourself. It just says three papers.
My first PhD paper was published in 2006, shortly after I defended. The second paper came out earlier this year. The third paper goes back to the editors on Monday, at the end of what hopefully is its last ever set of revisions. If all goes well, the editors give it their blessing and we move on to proofs and publication.
Three papers. And I’m out of material from my Ph.D. It’s all published or about to be.
For years my research identity has been wrapped up in a particular subject and a particular field area. Now I live someplace far away and I have to establish my independence as an investigator in order to build my case for tenure. And, of course, I have to keep that publication pipeline flowing.
Time to move on to other things then. It’s what I’ve been slowly trying to do over the past 1.5 years as a professor, but AGU and the nearing publication of my last dissertation paper has brought this reality home to me in an urgent manner. I’ve really really got to do something new, something of my own conception, something good enough to merit publication and recognition, and I’ve got to do it soon. My professional future depends on it. It’s a bit scary.
And it’s also exciting. I’ve got a new PhD student starting next month, and she’s going to work on a project that starts to get to the core of an area where I am planning my research focus for the next few years. I can’t wait to read the literature with her, take her to her first field area, get her collecting data, and start to see some results. I am trying to remind myself that she will in a new place and a new field; I have to remind myself that she may not turn out to be a mini-me, unabashedly in love with the topic; I am trying to remind myself that field science is unpredictable and we may not get the super-cool killer results I seek. So it will take some time before we are publishing amazing science in this new field area, on this new topic. But still I am excited.
I’ve also got a second research area to which I’m hoping to attract a student. I’ve got a proposal pending, with good chance of being funded, and I’ve got some ideas for science on the cheap (and dirty) that I can do with undergraduates if need be. This second area too will take time before it’s ready for the publishing primetime. You know, first I’ve got to collect some data and figure out what it means. But still I am excited.
In the meantime, I’ve got a post-doc project to finish up, write up, and publish, and I’ve got to do it soon. I’ve got a third author paper that I’ve got to get back to the first author, and I’ve got to finish up and write up the stuff from my AGU poster. So I’ve got enough droplets to keep the publication pipeline trickling for now.
But with the clarity that comes from being really, truly done with the PhD papers, I am ready to move on to new research subjects, get to know a new field area, and to define my pre-tenure research identity. And all the while to keep the publications pouring out of the pipe. At least that’s the plan.