08 March 2012

Why am I here?

There's really nothing like an encouraging seminar by your faculty to make you really doubt your life path.

To hear Dr. Ryerson tell it, your job in academia is to get your name recognized. Publish, go to conferences and mingle, win awards. There's something so callous and beauty-pageant about this view, this de-emphasis of the joys of discovery and science, and yet hearing it yesterday wasn't anything new. It's a prevailing view, I fear, in today's universities everywhere that output is more important than process. Little wonder, than, that Nature and Science are the pinnacles of modern publishing to the public eye, with their hundreds of half-page sound-byte articles that ultimately say very little.

Where do I come in to this? I've grown up wanting to be recognized for being smart, not for attaching my name to as many disparate projects as possible. Am I really signing up for a lifetime of acting as a cog in the great academic circle-jerk? Will real accomplishments in my research matter one whit if I don't use the right font on my poster?

I feel like I've been far too naive and idealistic in looking at this. I can't possibly hope to crouch beneath the establishment and shift its inertia and survive. I'm definitely not sure that I'm doing what I want to be doing. Moreover, I'm not sure of what I want to do. You're supposed to have that figured out by the time you get your bachelor's. Ugh, what an ill-omened name that degree has.

Is there still joy to be found in discovery behind these ivory walls? Is there any science done for the sake of discovery? Is there any place for this poor scholar in the game of academia?

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