Just Relax (?!)

As I've mentioned, this summer I've been working at the UCO/Lick Observatory, which is a network of astronomers who work with and for the UC system. I walked to my building this morning with one of the astrophysics postdocs, who takes the same bus I do. As part of my lifelong quest to make conversation,* I mentioned that he and the other astro people I've met seem incredibly relaxed compared to the history and lit kids I'm more familiar with. Here's what I learned:
  • We need to relax.
  • We should just be able to work on our projects and not get so worried.
  • If you've got a good project, it doesn't matter if it's done tomorrow or in two months, so why sweat the details?

Here's what I think:
  • Scientists know they're going to get jobs when they're done spending their six or seven years getting a doctorate. (Thanks for pointing that out, Tweak). We sure as shit don't.
  • Scientists have a huge number of unanswered questions. Historians have to invent a question that might be of interest to other historians (and, occasionally, other human beings besides historians) before they can even start working on answering the bloody thing.
  • Scientists, even grad students, have access to a lot of grant money. Historians have access to a whole hell of a lot less grant money.
I'm not at all bitter about any of this. As much as I like being a humanities guy, the smart money's on scientists being more useful, in most senses of the word. Their work requires more hard-and-fast resources (i.e. computers, labs, etc.), and thus requires the existence of larger bodies to fund them. And until we know exactly how everything in the entire universe works, it's only fair and logical that they have an easier time finding interesting things to study.

That said, it's absurd to tell grads in the humanities to just kick back and let the good times roll. We can't. We're dead broke and we have to spend as much time trying to figure out what to study as we do actually studying. Once in a while, a historian or a student of literature or philosophy publishes something important that reveals something important, but the chances of being one of those lucky writers is even lower than of being a scientist who makes a real, earth-shaking discovery.

So: my former advisor was very, very right in warning me, as I completed by BA and asked him about grad school prospects, that I shouldn't do it unless I felt like I had to. I wonder why I didn't feel like I had to take advantage of being a first-world citizen instead? Doh.

* This is, perhaps, the very root of my interpersonal conduct.

P.S. We leave for the scenic Pacific Northwest tomorrow evening. I'm bringing my laptop, so I'll probably update at least once while I'm up there. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing everyone I get to see and I apologize in advance to everyone I miss. Stay up, players.


quixote said...

We can relax when we're dead. Why waste time with it now?

Just kidding. Sort of.

Queen Sieve said...

I wonder what would have happened to me had I studied viruses and microbes rather than women, Jews, and violence (in whatever order you would like). The major preventing factor (and my husband and sis will never let me live this down): the pre req bio classes started at 8am and competed with Ballet. History classes started at 10 or later.

I love what I do, but I always have "you should have gone into microbio" in the back of my mind. They I could have done something really useful - like worked with microbes/yeast in beer and wine production.

Hmm... maybe it's not too late to change...

Rachel said...

I have a friend doing doctoral research on cancer at Purdue, and he says there have been cutbacks lately, so they only average about $130,000 per graduate per year in their annual budget. ACK!

crashcourse said...

Related, but only vaguely, I think back to my BFA and my decision to choose graphic design as it was "the only way an art major can make a living." I'm still not working as a designer, and now wish I would have just pursued a general fine arts degree, w/ an emphasis on the fine arts. It would have been more useful with my current career choice... maybe.

Also, why do cats want to sit on my laptop when I'm typing?

kungfuramone said...

Cats have an abiding love of technology. Most cats, like most people, prefer Apple laptops for sitting.