Monday, July 14, 2008

Head Spinning

It's difficult when you devote significant (meaning: all) energies to figuring out how to understand your field in graduate school. One of the pesky problems about being a woman engineer is realizing that there are very few women engineers. So I've spent time asking, "What do we mean by diversity in science and engineering anyway?" (But in graduate school, we don't just ask the questions, we read a pile of books to try to arrive at an answer.)

This head spinning pursuit started with a simple question of "What exactly do I want to do in this new field anyway?" Doing research in my field is a lot like working at Google when it first started. It has tons of potential to grow in a zillion different directions.

Because I have an engineering background, I am greeting a whole new toolbox for the first time because I'm asking different sorts of questions. It's a bit overwhelming. There are voices in my head that shout, "Use the HAMMER! The RED hammer! NOT THE YELLOW HAMMER! But, WAIT! You'll need a PAINTBRUSH too!" I'm thinking, "Hammer? Paintbrush? How about a blowtorch because that seems like a fun tool to pull out at random?" But then there's a part of me that tries to figure out what jobs would require the simultaneous use of both a hammer and a paintbrush. So then a disk sander comes to mind. "Where's the disk sander?" "WHAT? What do you mean there's no disk sander?" You see what I mean about having my head spin?

Then there's the part of me that questions the how much longevity differing ideas have because it seems like we are pulling things out seemingly at random. I've been reading books that outline their assumptions at the beginning (a convention which I find generally appealing so I don't get somewhere in the middle and discover that I've been looking at the first half of the book with blue eyeglasses when green would have been a better choice), but I question the validity of these assumptions. As people encourage me to think about why a question is asked, I start thinking about all of the assumptions that enter into the questions behind the question. It seems like a never-ending spiral.

Don't get me wrong: I'm enjoying the overall reading experience (most of the time) but I'm still trying to find my way in a new place.


EcoGeoFemme said...

I think it almost always feels this way when you are in a steep learning curve, and especially difficult when your whole field is in a steep learning curve. It's so hard to separate what's central from what's ancillary, what you're really passionate about from what is merely interesting. I found I had a better understanding of my science as I gained a grasp of its history -- it helped to have context for the different paths the research had taken over the years. Of course, I'm still learning this. And it may be less obvious for you since your field is new, but there must be reasons why your field came to be in the first place, right?

I think the best thing to do is to stay open to everything, like reverse brainstorming. And enjoy it for what an exciting time it is! You personally could push your discipline onto a new path. Also, try to leave a little energy for other things, so you don't lose your creativity.

Jennie said...

just wanted to say "hi"