Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reinventing my research

With my new job follows a new field area. It is expected that I will be carrying out research in new university region, and that I will get acquainted with the immediate surroundings at a sufficient level to guide field trips and suggest thesis topics for students. I have been visiting this area for professional reasons for a number of years now, so I am not a complete loss when it comes to getting around and the overall perspective of what can be done, but I have yet to aquire any detailed knowledge about the local rocks. To make matters more complicated (because why only have one problem when you can have two for free), I am not only changing location, but also research angle with this move.

I am working at the boundary between two sub-disciplines, and although the one topic does not preclude the other, there is still, let’s say a cultural, difference between the two fields. Once you are brought up in one of them, people rarely switch to the other, and methodology and terminology associated with each field are rarely used in the other. For those of you who know something about geology, let me reveal that I am talking about sedimentology (in a pre-Quaternary sense) and Quaternary geology (broadly speaking). I started out in one of these subfields for my Masters, switched to the other for my PhD and have spent my postdoc years to refine the type of research that contributes to both fields. My upcoming faculty position will be in the same sub discipline as I did my Masters in. Although I am (working on) publishing in this field and have stayed up to date on the literature, gone to the conferences and kept some contacts, I haven't done active research directly in this field since my Masters. For the geo-crowd, this means I have been doing sedimentology and stratigraphy in Quaternary settings, but haven't worked on anything compacted for the past 8 years.

I always (more or less secretly) harboured a wish of going back to my original sub-discipline some day, so I was tremendously flattered when I was suggested for the faculty position. I considered the offer a golden opportunity to make a leap that might otherwise have been difficult, as most of my connections are within the field I have done my PhD in. The hiring committee was clear on the fact that they were interested in the interdisciplinarity I could bring to the position, but they wanted someone whose core research would be in the topic I did my Masters in. For me this means that after years of using field studies of Quaternary deposits to say something about sedimentological and stratigraphical principles, I will now try to use what I have learned from the Quaternary and apply it to much older rocks and basins. This might sound easy enough, but in reality it is no small task. I am still convinced, there is a good connection to be made, and that I have the necessary experience from both sides of the fence to make it, but now the problem is to figure out how.

After many years of being involved in projects driven by others and being part of a big network of collaborators and friends, I am now starting all over again. My network in my new (old) sub discipline is tiny and though I know the principles, the terminology and the methods I don't know the local geological history of my new field area. I am reading up on the geological record from scratch and I am trying to make educated guesses of which units or areas might be more (or less) suitable for the type of research I want to do. I have sold myself on potential rather than evidence that I can actually pull this off, and sometimes it's hard to silence the voice telling me that I will not be able to do it. As the start date is coming closer, I feel like I cannot keep giving the same vague answers to what I am going to do. It is a bit like I have been telling everybody about this fantastic trick I am going to do, but I haven't figured out what the trick is yet. That is not true, I know, but looking at the pile of literature about stuff I know nothing about, makes it seem like it is.


At 2:08 AM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

Of course you can do it!

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Wayfarer Scientista said...

I second ecogeofemme!

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

I third!

At 12:59 PM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Aw, thank. I hope you're right.


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