Saturday, August 28, 2010

why grad school is hard, and what makes me feel better

Warning: self-pitying grad student rant. For quilting content, please skip to the pictures.

I think that part of the reason grad school is so darn hard is that one is required to come up with completely original ideas. As an undergrad, I learned to come up with arguments (sometimes new to me) using ideas generated by other people: works of fiction, essays, primary sources. I just had to take information and ideas found by others and arrange it all in a nice, orderly manner so that the ideas flowed from A to B to C, and I was really good at it.

The reason I am thinking about all of this is that I've been writing a paper. Not the kind of paper I wrote as an undergrad; as I've said, that was mostly about taking quotations (or paraphrased bits) of other people's work, arranging it logically, and then writing little connecting bits in between. Once I had the quotes or facts arranged, the rest of the paper practically wrote itself. (At least, that's how I remember it, four years later!) For the past couple of months, I've been struggling to write two entirely new research articles, and it feels like a totally different process, though I'm not entirely sure why. I take facts (generated by me and my colleagues, not by others), and then arrange them logically to form an argument. That's OK. But then I have to contextualize it all within the field and especially to explain what is new and important about these facts, what we now know that we didn't before this paper was written. And that's a lot harder. It's the intellectual equivalent of carefully defining one's place in the universe. Which is very small, but you have to make it sound important, or else why should someone bother to read it?

Enough ranting. After coming up with a complete draft of this difficult piece of work, I'm consoling myself with some quilting. Last night I completed 12 blocks for the sunshine bento box quit, and I liked them so much I decided I want 8 more, so I can make a 4x5 block layout, rather than the 3x4 I had originally envisioned. Cutting of fabric ensued. Time to go put the pieces together!!

A parting thought: I once heard of someone who made a comment to the effect of "why is doing research so hard? Anyone can do a Google search!" Research is hard because someone has to come up with and then prove all of those ideas Google finds for you!

I think it's so much easier to come up with ideas in crafting because a) they don't have to be original and b) you don't have to prove anything -- the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. (Also, it's not my job...not sure if it would be as much fun if I had to do it. What do you think?)

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