Friday, July 27, 2007

Back Burner

I don't know if this story will inspire or depress..

Many years ago when I was a graduate student, I got interested in a certain 'side project'. It was just something that captured my interest, but I knew it wasn't important enough to make a major focus of my work. For about 3-4 years, I occasionally worked on this project with 2-3 other friends from grad school, slowly collecting enough data to start figuring things out. When I became a professor, I advised an undergrad student for a senior thesis on the topic, and we wrote a paper together. That was good, but that paper just scratched the surface, and I felt strongly that there were more things to investigate. But again, it was never a priority.

Over the years, I never quite gave up on the project. I kept thinking about it, acquiring new data, and writing bits and pieces of a manuscript. The work sort of became a joke with some of my grad school era friends. They would ask "How's Project X going?" and I would say that it was still going.. slowly as ever. But not long ago, I finally finished the manuscript with help from a few grad school friends, it got pretty good reviews, and last night (late of course, as is fitting for a manuscript that took insanely long to construct), I resubmitted the revised version.

One of the things I like most about this paper is that all my co-authors are friends from grad school, even though we now work on different research topics. I told one of my former professors from grad school about the paper, and he was very pleased. It made me realize that I would also find it thrilling if some day a group of my former grad students get together and write a paper, independent of anything they ever worked on with me.


Anonymous said...

I think it's a delightful story, of curiousity that never went away. It speaks to me of a love of learning and scholarship for its own sake, a delight in exploring and being curious.

Dean Dad over at has posted about the importance of intrinsic compared to extrinsic motivation (in the case of promoting tenured professors) and this sounds like a classic case of intrinsic motivation - doing something for its own sake.

We all have far more things to do than we can do at any one time, and its good to know that a thread set aside can be picked up.

I think its the fact that you've done it with friends that makes the difference too. All in all it sounds like the best of academia.

Certainly not depressing, a little bit inspiring , but more a reminder that the world can be a joyful place when we play with things that we do for the love of it.

Thanks for your blog.

Anonymous said...

Sounds nice! Congratulations for staying in touch with yout grad school friends and for keeping an interest so long! And for the paper!

gs said...

I don't know if this story will inspire or depress..

That depends on the reader. Someone considering a university career might usefully ask themselves if they empathize with this post.

Though the work has been its own reward, it will be a fitting bonus if the paper turns out to be more significant than you expect.

Ms.PhD said...

Inspiring. Definitely inspiring.

AngryMan said...

Do you think of that project as more of a hobby or an actual profession? I like to write, but I can never dedicate myself to it because I don't want to lose the hobby aspects of it.

Anonymous said...

Inspiring, 100%.

So, a decade or so? *looks at crammed back-burner* Yeah, sounds about right :)