Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Back to the motivation

So the original question was "what motivates you to do what you do?".

When I asked that question, I was really struggling with a lot of health, my family, finishing my thesis, and finding a job.

I had to step back and evaluate where I was, how I got there, why I went there, and where the hell I was going.

I learned that I have strong goals molded from different types of motivations.

1.) I like dopamine.

That will probably never change--if it does it probably means I'm dead. I have a whole host of skills and abilities of which when I apply them in a work environment, I am positively reinforced. Although I always want to be in science because my love for science has never wavered through all of these years, and although these abilities are crucial to being a good scientist, that doesn't mean that they aren't also really useful to becoming successful in a scientific setting that is not "research".

I actually think a main source of my discontent is that I have a lot of talents not being employed in research. I think as an undergraduate I noticed those talents, as did others, and I saw that I might fit into a different niche than the research setting. I was just too busy existing to really see things for what they were.

2.) I want to save the world, starting one psychiatric disorder at the time. I want to be an avenger, in a sense.

I don't believe research is going to give me that immediate sense of "change" that I'm looking for. I believed it would when I was younger and when I didn't really know what research was all about (that elusive white whale), but I see now that I need something else to get that sense of "battle".

I want to help people now--I'm rewarded by immediate results. There are jobs that will allow me to do this ranging from policy to advocacy to technology transfer. And don't forget teaching. I really do want to teach, and I don't want to feel like teaching is "in the way" or "hindering me" from attaining job security. So many faculty here feel that way. How can they do research and publish and write grants if they have to teach? That's why so many of them are crappy teachers.

3.) I want to make money.
Now, I only took one economics class, but I think I understand the whole supply and demand thing. When you have lots of something, but the demand for that something is less than your supply, that thing is really cheap. We have way more people trying to be tenure track research faculty than there are positions for. That's why post docs float around in scientific limbo and junior faculty have to take valium to go to sleep and mini-thins to wake up and start their day.

So many tremendous intellectuals are just existing, tolerating chump-change pay and being slave labor, until things "get better". It will all be better at the next step. Many of them don't even know why they really want the next step, and if they decide at some point they don't want it, they are already in too deep to start over in a different career with no experience or training. They delay having children until they are too old to have children and, in 50 years, they are going to realize that they don't have the retirement funds necessary for the roach-free nursing home.

It's not right to treat yourself like that. It's not right to believe that you are doing something because "it's always what you wanted to do". Saying that is like saying, "If I do something else, it means that I have failed." Re-evaluate what you want and why you want it. Accomplishing your goals does not mean sticking with one career, especially if that career allows you to accomplish those goals in theory only.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try to be a research scientist if that's really your goal. The cream will rise to the top. But, if it's not really what you want, are you willing to make all the necessary sacrifices and forgo all of your desired positive reinforcers just for the sake of rising?

Not me.


At 11:38 AM, Blogger BrightStar said...

Awesome posts! Thanks for this series.

I always complain loudly and far and wide about the need for more affirmation in this crazy academic world. I liberally bestow it (based on evidence, not blanket affirmations that mean nothing) to be some small change out in the world, but people don't always know what to make out of me when I do that.

Also, one of the reasons I like teaching is that it can be an opportunity to see short term change, which is one reason why I like that my job combines teaching and research, since it takes so long for research to have any impact (if it ever does).

I've never had a lot of money, so I don't totally miss it.

Sorry... I should not use your comment box to talk about myself, necessarily.

I want to say how impressed I am with your reflectiveness. I think when we go through particular struggles (health, etc.), sometimes we gain clarity about what we need and want. I think it's difficult for me to be completely honest about what I do and do not want sometimes. This is definitely the right time for you to be thinking about these issues, but I suppose we could all always turn back.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

That was beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I hope committing it to the written word helped you work it out.

As a person who dropped out of a PhD program in science and took an entirely different path in life you are making me feel SO much better about that happening. For me it was not the heads up choice you are making but in retrospect it's a really good thing it happened because I can fully identify with everything you are saying about the personal fit of going research scientist/tenure track professor. That path would never have worked for me, either.

Congratulations on figuring that out now so that you can pick another path that utilizes your love of science. I missed that part. Things just happened for me and they worked out but I miss being a scientist.

One other thing - if you haven't read any Barbara Kingsolver I recommend you do. She is a scientist turned writer and her books and essays are great. We could use more Barbara Kingsolvers in this world and you are a very likely candidate.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger muse said...

Something that came to my mind while I was reading your latest posts: fulfillment (of needs, desires, etc.) doesn't have to come from one single source, ie you can have a job which is reasonably fulfilling on a personal level (allows you to learn new things, help, be creative, whatever is important to you) _and_ which gives you a good salary, and if you need more, you can always "supplement" with volunteer/mentoring/personal activities too. :)

At 1:29 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Thank you everyone. B*, you can use my comment box to post about yourself anytime. I admire you and like hearing about your life.

21st: Thanks for the feedback--I'm glad that you got something from my often incoherent ramblings. I'll check out Barbara--I need all of the informatoin I can get right now.

Muse: It's funny you mentioned volunteering. I've been trying to volunteer doing some psych services for awhile now, but they either a.) don't take volunteers because of liability issues or b.) have never had anyone volunteer so they don't know how to process me and thus they can't take me.

I would have never thought offering to work for free would be so difficult.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger sue said...

Thank you, thank you. I think you have really opened up here with these posts and I've enjoyed seeing the work in progress. You are an amazing woman.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger BrightStar said...

I love hearing how your posts are helping others connect with their lives!

The admiration is mutual, my dear.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

There are so many volunteer opportunities that could benefit from your intelligence and compassion. I don't know where you are located but CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a program you might be interested in.

Volunteers become an advocate for a child in the foster care system. I just signed on and will get a case next week - whee!

At 3:59 PM, Blogger muse said...

A couple of resources to locate volunteer opportunities (not sure how good they are, being Québécoise and all I'm not familiar with them, but... maybe something in there will be useful?):


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