Monday, February 13, 2006

Some new ideas

I arrived on campus today to discover a small package in my departmental mailbox. Ah, yes, that's the book for review. I requested a book from a journal (in my second field) to review. My first choice was already taken. But the editor requested that I look over the others. So, I found another book which sounded interesting, and is somewhat related to my areas of research. So, I said I'd do it. I've got until May to read it and write up a 500 word review. It shouldn't be too difficult. It forces me to read the book, which should stimulate my thinking in some different directions. And it gains me a little more exposure outside my core area.

I've been thinking a bit (I know, I say that a lot). I wrote last week about some rejection letters. And I realize (or believe anyway) that part of my difficulty in landing a tenure-track faculty post is that my area of research is essentially unheard of, rather than because there is anything glaringly lacking from my credentials. It's not that it's so obscure or bizarre. Frankly, I think it is quite accessible, and applicable in several fields of study.

It's just, well, at the risk of exposing myself (but then, if I were well known this wouldn't be an issue would it? Unlike the motivation behind ABDMom's blog dilemma, I'm not jealous of my anonymity due to an impending job): combining two fields in the humanities (which typically are deemed unrelated) with cognitive science, and psychology, and neurology... well, it's just not heard of, is it? I mean science and culture? And... what do you mean you're not talking about public policy and society? It's accessible and applicable, but it has nothing to do with gender or race or class or sexual orientation, or any of the sexy -isms that are in fashion. Well, it does, but those connections are not on the surface. They're deeper, and what I do is more basic, more foundational.

The questions that drive my research are simple. Where do we get these capacities from, that we all engage in everyday, that naturally emerge in children, that evolved in our species, that differ in interesting ways from the capacities of other species? And, how are they related, despite the fact that researchers in the two main fields don't typically think about their connectedness at all. And how do they reflect who we are, as individuals, as a species, as members of a group?

What I realize is that when I casually talk about my research to someone I meet, or give a talk about it, people often think wow, I never thought of that! But until they think of it, I don't have an audience. And this is what leads my friend and colleague and professional reference to say: "Yes, tell committees about your work, but also tell them why they should be interested and what it will contribute to their interests and that of their students."

So... I think I'll write back to a select few of the schools who sent me nice we wish you well, but we're not going to hire you kind of letters, to ask them if they'd consider inviting me to give a talk in their department. Most of their departments should have an appropriate colloquium or invited lecture series that I'd fit into. I'm not asking them to commit to much, just a lecture. I'm motivated to build up my exposure, and my C.V. Maybe if they knew more about my work, it wouldn't seem quite so off the wall. And the more experience I get speaking to diverse audiences, the more able I will be to present it in novel enlightening ways.

I had been thinking I need to focus on publications, and I'm working on that. But I also need to get back to what I'm really good at. And that's schmoozing and networking and preparing talks and conference papers. I've let that slide a bit lately, out of depression, and working on job applications, and spending time on working up articles (which always seem to take longer than I think, because there's always something else to read before I am confident writing).

Frankly, I need to get busy again, and busy in ways that make me productive. I'm not sitting by and waiting for the phone to ring any more. I've got to keep up my work. I've got to get going on some of my longer term projects, because I simply can't be sure that I won't be where I am for another two or three years.

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