Friday, October 26, 2012

Rewards of Research

A guest blog by Anita Blanchard, UNC Charlotte Department of Psychology

I teach in a PhD program where about half of our students go into academia and the other half go to industry (a.k.a. “The Real World”) and make boatloads of money.  Our program is Organization Sciences, and it is an interdisciplinary study of workers, work, and organizations from the perspective of industrial and organizational psychology, organizational communication, organizational sociology, and management.  I used to work in The Real World a few years ago and made what felt like a boatload of money at the time.  But I would never go back to The Real World, and this is what I tell my students when they ask why:

My work is always interesting in academia.

OK.  Obviously, that is a bit of an exaggeration because I think there are few people who find that all of our required committee work and academic service is Exciting!  Enthralling!  Interesting!!  But the projects I choose to work on are all interesting to me.  Otherwise, I could not devote 2 to 3 years to theorize, collect the data, analyze the data, and then go through the publication process. 

And while I think working in The Real World can have a great deal of meaning and can involve working on very interesting and important projects, working in academia (to me) means getting an itch in my brain about some phenomenon that is interesting and having all the freedom in the world to scratch it.  Even better, at mid-career, I also trust myself to know that if I think it’s interesting, other people will too.

It helps that I research in a very applied area of organizational sciences that I think is inherently sexy: virtual groups and communities.  I want to know why these online groups feel like “groups” and “communities” to their members and how participating in them variously affects their work and societal functioning as well as their mental health.  Doesn’t that sound interesting?  It does to me!

And that’s what I want to teach my graduate students.  When they find an area of research that is interesting to them, it is probably going to be interesting to other people, too.  They are going to have to work (i.e., read the literature and place their research within it) to figure out why their project is academically interesting and they should expect that they are going to have to work to convince others that it is interesting.  But my assumption with my students is always that they are getting excited about something that is actually interesting about their research.

And that’s one of the best things about academia: I do work that is inherently interesting to me. And most days, it’s pretty exciting to get up and go to work.  Yes, “boatloads of money” is nice.  But the freedom to do interesting work is priceless.  

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