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Friday, February 18, 2005

Research Manic-Depression

Like everyone else, I sometimes gripe about my job. Time for a look inside my world. Sometimes I think being a researcher is like being a manic depressive. Before you accuse me of being flippant (about academia) or insensitive (since I mentioned manic-depression), let me demonstrate with an example from the last month or so:

  1. My colleagues and I come up with a pretty good research idea. It's not groundbreaking (after, not many are), but it sounds like a good one: it extends a relatively recent article in a top journal, our results should be publishable at some level no matter what we find (i.e. we don't live or die based on which side of the null hypothesis we come out on), and it's doable in a reasonable time frame. So, we get a bit excited.
  2. We spent about a month talking it over and doing (at least we thought) a fairly thorough literature review. So far, so good. We get more excited.
  3. We find a working paper that looks like what we're doing. We get depressed.
  4. After a closer read of the working paper in step #3, we realize that it doesn't hurt our case, but instead actually helps it. We get excited again.
  5. A week later, we find another (but different) working paper (go back to step #3). We get depressed.
  6. Once again, we figure out it's really not a competitor piece after all (step #4).
  7. And so on, and so forth.
But even on a bad day, being a pointy headed academic is still better than most jobs. We get to spend a good part of our time actually thinking about things that interest us, and they pay us pretty well. Of course, I'm locally (or even globally) non-satiated in money, so don't tell the administrators who pay us.

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