Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New plan for a new year

Welcome, everyone, to 2010! I hope your holidays went well.

2009 closed just the way I hoped it would: quiet, happy, with friends and family. I didn't even attempt work over the holidays, so I feel much refreshed on that front.

My biggest challenge last semester was that I didn't know where I was going or why I should care about my work. I wasn't sure I wanted to follow the professor path anymore, and I'm still not sure of that. But, I think I figured out a way to continue with grad school while exploring other options. It's at least worth a try. I should also get back to my motivational program from October. That was a good idea.

If I don't want to be a professor or researcher, why do I need a PhD? Maybe I don't, but it's not going to hurt. The experience of finishing a huge project can apply to myriad jobs. I'm particularly interested in science writing. I've always liked writing, and it's obvious that I like science enough to attempt a PhD. I also see poor or non-existent communication between scientists and the rest of the world. Perhaps I can make a real difference there.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't try for a journalism degree in undergrad, but that would have added another year and another ~$17k in loans. I have enough school debt as it is. I'm not sure I can take J-school classes here, either. Most of them are reserved for journalism majors. (Why is that, by they way? It was the same in undergrad.) I emailed the teacher of an undergrad science writing course in a different department to see if the course would be useful to me. He suggested it'd be more useful to get an old journalism book and practice on my own since I already (presumably) know how to write. The Idiot's Guide to Journalism isn't exactly a textbook, but it's a start. And it cost me less than five dollars.

Here's my plan. I'll keep working on the PhD and try my darnedest to get the prelim out of the way before next fall semester starts. Then I'm not required to take any classes the rest of the time I'm in school. That will either free me to take whatever classes I want (whether or not they are related to my field) or to leave Uni-town altogether. I can treat PhD research more or less like a normal job, maybe even give myself a time sheet (that probably wouldn't last very long, but it's a funny idea). Then I can schedule at least a few hours a week to work on science writing type stuff. Those add to maybe 50-60 hours/week? If I decide science writing is not for me, I can easily replace it with something else and use the same general framework.

If my mom can handle a full-time job and two tech-school classes on top of normal life, I should be able to make this work, right? I just need a little more self-discipline than she does since I have much less accountability for my time and progress. Maybe a more quantitative plan... next post? We shall see.


  1. Just a thought, but perhaps you ought to apply to a MS program in journalism. It'd take a couple years, and you would definitely do well in science journalism (heaven knows we need more competent scientists). I will also say that not being motivated can often leave you ABD anyway. Perhaps you could leave your program with a terminal masters.

    I'm sort of reiterating advice. My MS advisor always said that unless you don't have a clear need for a PhD, don't do it. You'll drag your feet and probably not finish.

    Is there anything in particular that you believe removed your desire to become a prof? I am fairly sure I want to be one, but I don't think I'd ever want to be one at an R1.

  2. I don't feel like running the tenure gauntlet (as far as research goes), keeping up on a narrow field of literature, or writing in the terrible scientist fashion. Why is it customary to write so badly?

    I've heard that advice before, but I can't bring myself to follow it right now. I'm not positive that I'd never want a job that requires the PhD and I have a good setup now to get it. Not to mention I really don't want to leave my yet-to-be-tenured advisor high and dry. Instead of taking such a bold step so quickly, I want to explore other options while continuing on my current path. (If I would do a Journalism MS, it probably wouldn't be here.)

    Besides, the fellowship will pay my bills for now. If I jump ship, I'd have to take my chances with the current economy. I'm also worried that a job in science journalism right off the bat would not pay back my rather large educational loans from undergrad.