Thursday, January 12, 2006

A better day: a few words always help

I heard back from the chair of my dissertation committee yesterday. I had written to him just to check in about the job search. It was very awkward because the two professionals I feel most comfortable leaning on about these things happened this year to sit on two search committees considering my application for employment. My advisor was one of them.

The good news is both of them are now available to speak freely with me about job prospects. The bad news, of course, is that neither of their institutions have put me on the short list. Alright, so I move on.

My chair wrote a brief, but nice note:

I'm always delighted to support any application you put together. Don't get discouraged, it just may take a while to get things moving where you want them to be.

It doesn't take much when you're feeling isolated, to feel a little more connected to things, and thus a little better. Part of my brain responds: how long? But I know that's not a terribly productive question. Besides, no one has the answer to that.

I'm beginning to think of alternatives, whether temporary or permanent, in case I end up among that cohort of highly-qualified, intelligent, and capable PhDs unable to land a tenure-track job. I have applied for a few post-docs, but at the moment I consider them to be "real jobs" even if they are short-lasting. As I look over some of the online resources, I'll post the links for useful ones.

I try not to despair too much. Admittedly, it was my choice to pursue an area of research that was (and for the most part remains) outside the mainstream. It's interesting how interdisciplinary is such a hot buzz-word, but when your research is truly cross-disciplinary, people nod and smile, say how interesting it is... but I suspect they're thinking, "well, we don't have a place for him on our faculty, but I'm sure someone will hire him." If only I could find that who!

The weather here is gorgeous. I've been out in the garden pruning a bit this week. I've got to get more exercise. It's hard for me to remember it's okay to take care of myself. I feel guilty about spending time on my body, when I feel there are "more important things" I should be doing. But I have to remember, extending my life-span is pretty important, and in the end will likely permit me to accomplish more of those "more important things" than dying young.

Okay, out into the world.


trillwing said...

Your comments about interdisciplinarity are apt. I pondered this strange beast myself this week on my blog. On the one hand, I love working between and among disciplines; on the other, now that I'm out on the job market, it's crushing my spirit to learn that nobody really seems to care. *sigh* Keep your chin up.

ArticulateDad said...

Here's a link to Trillwing's post on interdisciplinarity.

The Clutter Museum: On being interdisciplinary

Here's my take on what interdisciplinarity is, or should be. It derives from the roots of education and inquiry. For many established fields, there is a long-documented history of methodological approaches and tendencies. For many there is a rather circumscribed topic of inquiry, or at least a prescribed sort of question.

But there are many questions that simply don't fit the mold. If you ask questions about women in science museums during the late 19th century, you just have to know about the history of society during that time period, and the status of women, and you also need to know about a bit about the fields of science they were engaged in, and about the structure and function of museums, etc. That is, the topics are driven by the question, which is counter to how many disciplines work.

That doesn't necessarily make these questions better or more valid, simply different. Interdisciplinarity is not, nor should be, an end in itself. However, for an academic institution (for that matter a society) to be available to the greatest degree of innovation, there must be an openness to all sorts of inquiry. There must be support both for the strength and potential of disciplinarity, as well as a flexibility to permit cross-disciplinary inquiry.

The two must complement one another. When they cease to relate to each other (disciplinarity not reflecting the broader scope of inquiry and experience; interdisciplinarity ignoring the accomplishments of disciplines) then inquiry itself atrophies. We all begin to reinvent the wheel, or worse, we all start believing that wheels need to be oblong or square.

What I call for is a respect for inquiry itself, a respect for the wonder of asking interesting questions, and following the paths that those questions require, whether within established practice or across it.

trillwing said...

Well said. Thanks for your comments here and at my blog. I just stumbled across your blog today, but I'll definitely be checking back.