20 March 2009

Scientific opportunism vs. planning

Ever since I first decided to get my Bachelor's from Western Kentucky University, I've been a firm believer that planning can only do so much to guide life's decisions. What I mean is that regardless of what choices I think would make me the happiest, and independent of how much I plot and plan to achieve those goals, I always tend to be pulled in certain directions. Case in point: I tried hard not to study science at WKU. I was history/pre-law/communication/etc for my first year, and then I started to do research and was hooked into plant systematics. I had the opportunity to do research, I thought it might be interesting, and then I kept following that path all the way to a PhD.

An alternative viewpoint to this train of thought: I'm incredibly clever in taking advantage of opportunities that arise, even if they don't immediately seem beneficial in the big scheme of my life.

A second alternative viewpoint: I'm too lazy to do what I really want, so I just go along with whatever is handed to me (which generally turns out to be easier).

Regardless, I don't think of living my life so much as my life living me. Maybe this is my attempt to become zen in the face of too much pressure, too much stress, and too many decisions...I just wait until something seems right and then go with it.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, I'm currently faced with the prospect of altering literally a third of my dissertation to a field which is only somewhat relevant to my current research interests. More interestingly, I currently believe said area of research is full of scientific uncertainty, hand-waving, and not many answers...just more questions (that is a nice way of saying I don't really have any confidence in the validity of the analyses I've been running, just a deeper understanding of the algorithms that gave me answers). I've had the opportunity to learn some new things, meet some great people, and work on some cool questions. My gut's telling me to run with it. There are certain advantages...I'm discovering this new side to my intellect, where I can spend hours and days and weeks learning new computer programs and running analyses on the computer quite happily.

I didn't plan to end up here. But now I just have to readjust my thinking so that I can keep stumbling upon new, interesting, and unexpected things to learn.

No comments: