Academic Angst

You see, last year on an introductory geology field trip, about five or six of us were walking back to the bus when a professor called out stop! you’re being chased by a walking petrology lesson! He caught up, showed us a chunk of granite, and said some things about crystal growth and feldspar zones and what it all meant in terms of that granite’s life story.

It was exactly what I’ve always thought learning should be – none of this sitting isolated in one’s room, reading dusty tomes, speaking only to one’s own small circle of mentors and only in the secret cabbalistic language of one’s chosen discipline. We were loose in an environment full of relevant, thought-provoking, instructive things, with people ready to answer all our random questions and point out even more nifty instructive things that might be too subtle for us to appreciate without help. Utopian as all hell, that – plus the fact that another part of the trip involved soaking in er, investigating the mixing patterns of some hot springs.

But of course I keep finding ways in which the academic community utterly fails to conform to my idealistic little vision of things, and of course just learning the science is enough for my energies without trying to reform a whole subculture, and so of course I keep making little notches of defeat and bitterness on my precious translucent clamp binders. There’s nothing in particular that prompted this today, though, just generalized grad-school-decisionmaking fears and a couple of the comments from yesterday’s entry. Dogpile on Tinka! ;)


  1. Tinka wrote:

    It’s the loneliness which is the hardest for me, really. I am quite sociable despite appearances. It can get awfully lonely sitting on your own for years writing about things nobody else cares about. On the other hand, I enjoy working on my own. I like solitude too. Hmmm.. it’s a funny old world, really.

  2. des wrote:

    [guilt-assuaging backtrack mode: ON]
    Glurp! It’s the nature of specialisation that fewer and fewer people understand what you do. It’s practically the definition of original research that noone (including you) knows what’s going on.
    If you like the subject (Pow!) and you want to expand the frontiers of knowledge (corny, but still true), you have to put up with this (Zoof!).
    Research groups can be social up to a point (maths is probably worst for that, and even then my group is pretty cool), but you do need to be able to work alone.
    Zing! The main difference is that we expect research to be slow: groping (Slap!) your way along is natural. It’s the whizzing (Vrooom! Nyeeeow!) through mostly pre-masticated problem sets that’s artificial.
    Personally (Ker-Zam!), I’m just in it for the post-seminar tea and cakes.
    And remember: It’s Still February.

  3. yami wrote:

    I can work alone – I can’t work alone, always.
    Bah humbug!

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