April 21, 2011
Here’s some advice. When you’re feeling hopeless about human beings ever learning/deciding to live together peacefully on this planet, watch a TED talk. When you’re feeling alone in your work to make a better world, watch a TED talk. When you’re bored with the same old same old, watch a TED talk. It takes less than 20 minutes and costs nothing. And with over 800 of them currently online and new ones added daily, you can be inspired or learn something new as often as you need or want to.
Two weeks ago I was one of five researchers invited to participate in a “Fireside Chat” sponsored by graduate student members of the American Educational Research Association at the organization’s annual meeting in New Orleans (see my post of April 4). We were asked to address the topic, “(Re)Imagining Interdisciplinary Research Methodologies.” I think the graduate student leaders who organized this, Cecilia Henriquez and LaGarrett Jarriel King, did a good job of it. The five of us “senior researchers” (James D. Anderson, Patricia C. Gandara, Nailah Suad Nasir, Lalitha M. Vasudevan, and me) used our diverse histories to complement each other, as the gathering of 40-50 pursued us with questions for 90 minutes non-stop.
One thread of the conversation had to do with the intensity of conducting dissertation research and writing one’s thesis and articles for publication—how to make it less stressful, not overwhelmingly all-consuming, is it possible to have some balance? My suggestion: Get out of your head and into the world. The process of becoming an academic makes you narrower and narrower; you’re becoming an expert on what is, when you think about it, a tiny aspect of the world. For PhD students this is most intense, even when their advisors tell them to “expand their literature review,” because that typically involves a relatively small step “outside” the dissertation research question proper.
When I’ve advised graduate students and new professors just starting out, I urge them to explore fields outside their own, including ones they know nothing about, to find out what’s happening—what kinds of questions are being asked, methods being developed, rules being broken, impact on the field and on policy. People tell me this helps them; not only do they get new ideas but it grounds them as human beings connected to others.
Within the Fireside Chat grouping I was set apart in this way. In response to how we understand being interdisciplinary and face the challenges of being so, I ventured that I was not so much interdisciplinary as adisciplinary and even antidisciplinary. I recommended that they watch a TED talk a day.
You don’t have to be an academic or becoming one to need to be stimulated to being curious and open. We all do.