Pruning Infinity

Although it can seem like a straitjacket at times, one of the positive things about being deep into a major project like a Ph.D. thesis is that it forces you to focus – and the further you get into the process, the more you have to put interesting but irrelevant new ideas to one side, and concentrate on the job in hand.  

I actually found this restriction quite useful, as it helped me to concentrate my efforts on producing tangible results, rather than being constantly distracted by the latest novel idea to pop up in my Twitter feed. I have what have politely been referred to as ‘a very broad range of interests’, (a.k.a., a butterfly mind), and now that my Ph.D. is complete, the temptation to overcompensate for all that focus and discipline by trying to investigate everything I come across, simultaneously, is quite large. Given infinite time and resources, I would already have started research projects on knitting carbon fibre, visualising vocal cords, teaching maths and programming through dance, and the social history of pollution – and those are just for starters. I would also be learning R, Python, FORTRAN & Smalltalk, along with Chinese, French, German and Spanish, and ballroom dancing.  That’s tonight’s list, anyhow. It’ll be different tomorrow.

In a way, this is good news. I rarely have a problem coming up with lists of things I would like to know more about, or do better. I am perpetually curious and I enjoy learning. The tricky bit is finding a way of applying that curiosity to things my employer is willing and able to pay me to do. That means topics which have funding available, and topics which fit into departmental or institutional priorities. It also means focusing on things I’m actually reasonably good at. That immediately shortens the list: the number of things that I’m both good at and interested in, which also overlap with my faculty’s research strategy, is actually quite small.  I know this, because ever since last summer I’ve been pursuing what was effectively a small-scale research project to work out what my next research project(s) will be. As far as I know right now, knitting carbon fibre and dancing wave functions haven’t made the cut. 

Maybe next year…?


Posted January 3, 2016 by HVS in Research

Tagged with ,

%d bloggers like this: