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Musings on research June 13, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, grad school, papers, research, science.
Tags: , , ,

I made an interesting observation today.  It’s funny that I should’ve noticed this before, but I didn’t.

I have finally come to the realization that the question, “How’s your research going?” is really a euphemism for, “How long until you’ve finished your PhD?”  I’m not sure why it didn’t hit me before.  My usual response to the question is to ask ‘which research?’ because I work in two totally different areas of research, both of which I find pretty fascinating.  I thought the person asking the question was actually interested in what I was doing.

Nope.  I realized today that they always say, “Why, your PhD work, of course!”  And, when it comes down to it, only a handful of people who ask really are interested in the research itself.  Most are just interested in how close that completion date is.

The reason I should’ve realized this before is because my husband got the question all the time.  It didn’t occur to me until this line of thought became clear that once he’d graduated, people started asking, “How’s work?”  (And usually, they aren’t interested in his research, either.)

If there isn’t a PhD comic strip devoted to this topic yet, there ought to be.


I got scooped.  (A work related project – not my dissertation.)  It was a small side project that I’d worked on here and there but had really not had any significant time to commit to.  I’d gotten started on it and looked at things here and there.  In part, I was waiting for someone else to finish some of his software development.  (Of course, he was laid off earlier this year…so I imagine I’ll be waiting a while.)

Anyway, I am kicking myself because I obviously had a good idea (given someone else published exactly. the. same. thing.), but there was just no time to flesh it out.  Did I make the right choice by focusing on other things or did I miss the boat?  On the other hand…hey!  I had a good idea.    I, of course, have a couple of ideas of things that can be done based on the original project, but it’s disappointing that I won’t have the paper that gives the original idea.  Of course, at the rate that particular project is going (because it’s so low priority…just some ideas I had playing around in the lab), I’m not sure I’ll ever get those other papers out.

This makes me wonder…is it good to focus on the ‘next big thing’?  Or should one keep trying to work on those little things in the meantime?  How do you prioritize?  I think I made the right decision…but it’s easy to second-guess yourself.



1. nicoleandmaggie - June 14, 2012

Getting scooped is hard. I think it does happen less as you get more established– you have a better idea of what other people are working on, people have a better idea what you’re working on, your work gets more specialized… and once you realize you’re scooped you’re better at turning the project into something slightly different that’s still publishable.

Re: asking how research is going– getting into the habit of asking people about their research (assuming you’re with people who do research– this can fall dead on the job market at some schools) is a really good way of having conversations with other academics and phd level researchers. It’s like commenting on the weather as a conversation starter, only better.


mareserinitatis - June 14, 2012

I had a choice between focusing on this project and the one that eventually resulted in the patent application (which is, of course, pending). So I think I made the right choice…but it’s frustrating feeling like I have 8 different directions I could be going and needing to prioritize in a serious way.

I suspect the question is more productive when asked of people who actually do research, but most of the people I know aren’t researchers. They just want to know when I’m going to get a “real job” (because apparently p/t work isn’t real). So the comment about falling dead…did you mean to be careful about whom you ask this question when on job interviews?


nicoleandmaggie - June 14, 2012

in job interviews, or at conferences in which you might meet people who aren’t research active…


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