Post-Dissertation Research Trajectory

handwritingAs I write my tenure and promotion application letter that recaps what I’ve done, I’m also thinking a great deal about where my career will be going. Raul Pacheco-Vega has blogged a bit about his own trajectory. So I figured, I’d spend #ScholarSunday (Pacheco-Vega’s creation) doing a bit of writing on my own trajectory.

For some of us PhDs, we have a love and hate relationship with our dissertation. It was our ticket to being called “doctor.” It led to publications that helped us get jobs and advance our careers. However, we are often sick of it (and possibly the topic) once we’ve squeezed what we can out of it. Yet, moving on is hard. I was recently talking to a colleague of mine and she expressed concern about future research once everything in her dissertation was published. Moving on to a new project is often scary and intimidating.

I actually haven’t thought much about my dissertation for the past 2-3 years. My trajectory is (maybe) different from others though. There were a number of ideas that I had when I was starting my dissertation that were not feasible for a number of reasons. As such, I had a U.S. (or California) -centric dissertation on architecture and culture despite being trained in globalization and global cities. After getting a few articles out of my dissertation, I started moving on to a very different area of study. While my recent work on wildfire comes out of a very brief section of my dissertation, it was essentially a new project that required a lot of new research. I basically had to train myself in environmental sociology. Since then, I’ve been working on global urban and environmental issues rather than culture and built environment. Also, visiting Turkey and Ethiopia the last two summers have allowed me to explore new angles to look at the connection between environment urbanization, but in a way, I’m returning to my roots as a Binghamton Sociology trained scholar.

This shift (or return) led to a bit of awkwardness at the American Sociological Association (ASA) meeting last week. When asked what I work on, I struggled to find an answer. I think for the time being, the simplest explanation is that I look at the “intersection between built and natural environments in the U.S. and globally.” Six years ago, if a time traveler had told me that this was my future, I’d have been shocked.

I’m not sure if this trajectory makes me look unfocused, but I think my short attention span and desire to constantly work on different topics keeps my intellectual curiosity strong. Loving learning is what brought me here, and I still get excited when I learn something new. So hopefully, this excitement can inspire many more years of research and writing. After all, I’m still an early career researcher / scholar.