Are you in the right research area?

I think this is kind of a scary question to ponder. But, I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last few weeks. It’s scary because depending on the outcome, you may want to make big changes in your life. Or you may realize that you’re setting yourself up for a much longer process towards finding the job you want.

In my case, I will say that I really enjoy computer science. And I do find my research interesting. I’ve had some surprising results and they keep it engaging. However, if I’m honest, I’m not researching something I’m super passionate about. I can make a long argument about how what I’m doing sort of connects with what I’m really interested (education), but it actually seems to be moving farther away, rather than closer.

I can also convince people of the benefit of my research (which is good when you want people to approve of it, fund it and help you out). And I’m not lying about the benefits. However, they’re just not benefits that I personally care all that much about.

I’m really interested in (and have been for a pretty long time) education. I’m interested in why students seem to be doing worse in school, not better, even though we’ve spent the last few decades (centuries?) studying ways to make schooling more efficient. What is it that causes some students to succeed and others to fail? How can technology, which has shown itself to be ridiculously engaging to students in their downtime, be used to increase their learning? What changes are needed to the school system, starting way at the bottom up through university, are needed to produce a more educated population who is engaged with their community?

There are lots of really smart people who are researching many of these areas, and I’m reading one of the resulting books right now (How Children Succeed by Paul Tough). I also am always pulled in by articles about education, and specifically about how different schools are trying (and often succeeding) by using abnormal approaches. I think the whole area is pretty fascinating, and something that needs to be worked on.

However, like I said, my research doesn’t directly relate to this. That doesn’t mean that I don’t, in some of my side stuff, touch on education. One of the main projects I belong too has been used in education before, and we may find time to do more studies with it. And, we are doing an offshoot study on part of my research where the results could be useful. But, I don’t see myself researching my current topic 5 years from now.

And I do hope that I’m still researching in 5 years. I just don’t know where it’ll be exactly. Possibly as a joint position between multiple departments – like computer science and education. Or maybe working for someone like Jane McGonigal at the Institute for the Future. Hopefully, what I end up doing, will somehow manage to combine what I’ve learned from grad school along with my real interest in education. But, I guess I’ll just have to wait to see what the future has in store. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Are you in the right research area?

  1. I’ve had the exact same thoughts and doubts, but I’ve made my decision to pursue my passion of educational research – or more specifically, how computers have and continue to impact education. It seems like the most interesting research is in the integration of computers with society, and that’s what I’m really drawn towards.

    It was a drastic shift from where I started, and the subtlety of my blog fails to convey just how drastic it really was. In a way, I only started blogging about research more than food when I pushed my way into Education (and to a lesser extent, Digital Humanities).

    • Nice. Like I said, I do like my research, it’s just not my main passion. I have had opportunities to do more work within the education spear (and actually one of my supervisory committee members is from the department of educational psychology – which is somewhat abnormal that they aren’t all comp sci people). Part of what has caused it to slow down/change recently (and has made it a bit more frustrating) is that my supervisor has taken on a more administrative role that is gobbling up his time. This has meant he has less time for some of the ideas we were considering (and at least one that relied on him teaching a specific class), which cuts into these side projects.

      However, the more I think about all this, the more I realize I need to just make the effort to start pushing forward on some of these areas on my own (with my supervisor’s support, of course). So I’m going to add that to my list of topics to discuss with him at our next meeting.

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