May 17, 2006

Total Request Blog: My research in a nearby possible world

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at May 17, 2006 2:23 PM

In the requests thread, Kyle asks: If you had to research in a different area than you are now, what would it be? It can be as different as you want, but can't be too similar. At the least you have to be publishing in entirely different journals.

This is an easy one: philosophy of science. I took several great philosophy courses at Caltech (which you might imagine had a scientific focus in its philosophy department) and got really interested in issues of what science is and why it works. I still think about these topics in idle moments and I could definitely see myself doing research in this field if I hadn't gone for something more practical and experimental. Indeed, many of you have had to sit through my digressions on problems like the grue paradox (sometimes presented in Dinosaur Comics form). Imagine if I could get paid to do this—although I'd have to write serious papers, unless there's a Journal of Philosophical Letters as Presented by T-Rex. The downside is that I wouldn't get to play with expensive high-frequency electronics with lots of buttons, and having qubits to experiment on is pretty cool.

Tags: Academia, Comics, Philosophy, Science

Don't forget the funding issue, either. Science grad students are "spoiled" compared to the humanities folks, the way we usually get paid as GSRs rather than TAs (and can get TA positions at will, most of the time). If you were a philosophy grad, you'd be brown-nosing as hard as you could with the department secretary hoping you'd get a TA position every quarter, and likely wouldn't know what a GSR was...

This is a major reason I didn't think very long about applying to history grad programs after I finished my astro PhD.

Nice Dinosaur Comic! :-)

How do you feel about violins, btw? Some of the UCSC astro grads joked (after a couple of physics colloquia on the topic) that physicists seem to be obsessed with the instrument... You like physics, you like music, there you go - new research topic!

Posted by: Justin | May 17, 2006 2:40 PM

One can do physics research without being practical. :)

I'm not sure which subject I'd do. I might have written poly sci, but I'm actually doing some of that anyway.

If I weren't a scientist, I would likely be a writer, but I'm doing some of that too, so maybe the best answer is that right now I am a scientist/writer with scientist as my primary class, and the switch would just entail reversing which of the two is my primary class.

Posted by: Mason | May 17, 2006 9:27 PM

Hey thanks for your answer! The question of what to do with my life now has been on my mind a lot and it is interesting to see what other people say they might have done with theirs.

And I totally dig your dinasaur comic.

Posted by: Kyle | May 18, 2006 6:25 AM

Justin: Yeah, I've heard the same things about humanities grad programs. As for the violin, it gets a lot of attention because Einstein played it, but the guitar is an equally good physics instrument: J.C. Maxwell played physics songs on the guitar when teaching physics classes.

Mason: Political science might have been my third choice. :)

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 18, 2006 1:43 PM

I considered double-majoring in political science* at Caltech and also briefly ponded (as a frosh and s'more) whether I should get a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and political science. (Basically, once I discovered a family of problems in poly sci where I felt I could contribute, I jumped at the chance to do it.)

* Technically, it would have been an SS double major (because Tech doesn't have a PS major), but I wouled have filled up the requirements primarily with PS courses.

Posted by: Mason | May 18, 2006 2:53 PM

If I had the temperament for it, I probably could have been interested in something medical. I find it absolutely fascinating, but my marginal stress-response mechanisms would not have let me survive residency.

Posted by: Laura | May 18, 2006 3:43 PM

I like to describe my dream of being an indy game developer as "running away and joining the circus". Believe it or not, I've been surprisingly close to commiting my time and money in that direction twice now.

Would you think I was crazy if I said that going to grad school and eventually becoming a professor or somesuch researching language design is, in a way, the same dream?

At this point, neither seem very likely, though. At least I can say, "though", though.

Posted by: Lemming | May 18, 2006 4:40 PM
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