November 3, 2009

Permission

I have a deadline tomorrow, and really ought to be working on that instead of reading, but this article at Jezebel is so resonant for me, for a lot of reasons. It makes me wonder if I should go back to the used bookstore I was at on Saturday and buy that 100-Euro 1929 edition of A Room of One's Own. It reminds me of a story my friend L tells, about deciding she'd rather teach than do high-profile research, but being afraid to break the news to her internationally-famous research-powerhouse graduate advisor. The advisor, a woman who has been extremely dedicated to her research for many years, and who is very shrewd and direct, looked straight at my friend and told her "Well, we should make sure you're the best teacher you can be, then."

Permission to succeed. Just when you think you've gotten beyond working for gold stars on a chart, for proud looks from your parents and good grades, that little phrase blows it all away. I definitely want other people to think the work I do is interesting. It doesn't make it any more interesting for me, but the external approval tells me I don't have to prove that my work matters: smart people think I'm interesting! The sociology of research science, especially in my little specialized corner, is very complicated, and is strongly skewed by insecurity. Senior people who take the time to give serious advice, who think to ask junior people about subjects they're knowledgable in (as though they're already experts!), can make a big difference. Here's to good mentors, and good influences.

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