Asked before and now again: #academics, how did you choose what to focus on? You're smart people with a lot of side interests but how did you decide which topic to dedicate yourselves to? Tips for young academics hugely appreciated. #policy #research Please RT/share/chime in!— Claire Wählen (@Claire_Wahlen) June 11, 2019
First, what to study? My fundamental take is that we academics got into this business because we are deeply curious people. We see something, we want to know more about it. Summed up best thusly:
As a trained, tenured scholar in the humanities, let me tell you, "What the fuck?" is the underlying research question to much excellent scholarship.— Carly Kocurek (@sparklebliss) June 13, 2019
What catches one's eye and mind? It really is about taste. That is, just as one cannot really explain why some people like green or purple (except in this one case) or sweet or sour, what interests individual scholars depends on their backgrounds (where they were trained, what they have experienced) and inclinations. When I went to grad school, I never expected to study the international relations of ethnic conflict. It is something I fell into. Folks may try to be strategic and jump on a wave or a fad, but that way is often dangerous. For me, it always comes down to this: for a big project like a dissertation or book or series of articles, it will occupy years, sometimes more than a decade, so why spend so much time studying something one is not interested in.
Sure, if the research needs funding, you need to find ways to make it interesting to grant agencies. Indeed, since one needs to publish the stuff and, oh, get a job, a key trick will always be making something that one is interested in interesting to others (usually by asserting that one's findings are counter-intuitive).
Claire then went on to ask a second question:
Then follow up question: how you do stop yourself from being the dog chasing the car, where the car is some interesting new conundrum you find and are actually well placed to explore deeply? Or do you work it in somehow?— Claire Wählen (@Claire_Wahlen) June 11, 2019
Ah, this is a challenge. Given that this is the pic I posted when the CDSN-RCDS received funding,
and given that this is what I tweeted yesterday,
this is a problem I have faced over the years. It was not a problem when I had a narrow imagination and was so focused on just publishing pieces of my dissertation. But over time, I developed other ideas, and then the trick became balancing multiple projects. Part of the answer to that is having co-authors, so that one is working on a piece of project A while a co-author is working on a piece of project B. Another trick is to rely on the rule of three: that one works on the next thing while the prior thing is under review. Of course, I have let things slip. For instance, working on the CDSN launch has meant not finishing my Germany case study for the Dave/Phil/Steve project. Oh, and I have a TRIP paper or two to write based on the most recent survey of Canadian International Relations scholars. I did just have a Skype with a former student, Ora Szekely, about doing the last few things so that we can revise a paper to get it under review, and, we also discussed case selection for the larger project. Yes, I am thinking about the book project after this current book project. I am guilty of:I am finding myself working much more on #BattleRhythm and other @CdsnRcds than my on-going research. Sorry, Dave and @PhilippeLagasse, but this stuff is so much fun! pic.twitter.com/RuL4HhBv6P— Steve Delightfully Combative Saideman (@smsaideman) June 13, 2019
So, the real answer to the question of how do we stop ourselves from focusing on the next thing when the current thing is not done? Um, we often fail to stop ourselves. Just like I fail to stick to my diet. Some folks have more discipline than others, or have writing groups that help to enforce discipline. I think I have lost much discipline (not that I started with that much) as I went along. Now that I am a Full Professor and don't face much pressure, it is all about what interests me and, yes, co-author pressure. So, yesterday's tweet about being distracted led to this:
Just don’t forget your case studies pic.twitter.com/VWYF0M6cCJ— Philippe Lagassé (@PhilippeLagasse) June 13, 2019