For a little while, I thought that maybe this year things wouldn’t be so crazed. I’m taking one less class this semester, although I traded that extra class for a 20-hour research assistant position, which I am absolutely loving. I think I got a little lazy, which was not so smart. A few weeks ago I realized that I need to get my rear end back in gear. A big part of my self-induced laziness happened because I wasn’t being very good about structuring my time and using my thoughtfully created “to-do” list. I had to blow the cobwebs off of the list and was mostly reacting rather than planning. I’m a planner, I do better with structure. I haven’t had enough external structure this summer and I do much, much better with concrete deadlines. How am I going to survive after next year when I’m off to do my own research and dissertation writing? Without imposed deadlines? That, my friends, is going to be a challenge and I need to start thinking now about how I’m going to keep motivated.
Another “problem” I have (knowing full well that any “problem” is really a luxury in disguise) is having too many ideas. I went into the program with a pretty clearly defined idea for my research. Except that during and after every class I take, I get another “brilliant” idea (or two or three). All these ideas are piling up on each other and as I start to get closer to thinking about actually doing one of these ideas, I’m finding that having too many options is starting to freak me out. Which idea am I going to do? What if it’s not the BEST idea? What if I regret it and wish I’d done something else?
It’s like what author Barry Schwartz writes about in The Paradox of Choice. The more choices one has, the more unsatisfied one becomes and the more difficult it is to make a decision. And then whatever decision one makes, one continues to think that there’s a better option “out there.”
A week ago, I was talking to one of the faculty members at my school, and he asked how I was doing this year. I explained that my biggest concern was trying to figure out which of the many ideas I have would be the “best” project for my dissertation. He gave me some great advice. First, he advised that I take each of these ideas and actually start to flesh them out a little bit. Right now they’re all pretty much just “ideas” – a research question or two and a vague idea of how it might be structured (and by vague, I do mean vague – like, “quantitative study” or “historical research”). The Professor suggested I start writing a mock description of the research, like a proposal draft, writing down how long I think it would take, who would be involved, would I want to write apply for funding and who would fund this project, etc. etc.
The other piece of advice the Professor gave to me was more of a “re-framing” of my “problem.”
“Instead of thinking of having too many ideas as a problem,” he said, “once you begin to flesh out these ideas, think instead of having a collection or portfolio of ideas that could be your legacy of your future academic career.” He suggested that having solid ideas on a wide variety of potential projects could make me a very “compelling candidate” (his words), as a search committee would be able to see that I’d be bringing with me a lot of projects and potential funding sources too.
The cover of the Schwartz book is an egg carton with 11 regular eggs and one golden one; I feel that is a pretty accurate description of the Professor’s advice. I have the carton already, the framework of study (adoption/foster care) and now I want to start to place the eggy ideas in the carton. At some point I’ll have to pick one, but as the Professor advised, I don’t have to throw any of these other ideas in the trashcan. Just because I pick one now doesn’t mean the others are bad ideas. At some point in my life, any one of them might be the “perfect choice”