round and round

I’m back in all my grouchy glory, in case any of you are still around, and this time i promise to post regularly.

First, hearty congratulations to Falstaff, for this post. Its not everyday that you have Steve Levitt linking to you and Steve Sailer commenting on your post. Well done, sir, well done indeed.

*clears throat*

When I was contemplating a career in academia, I was under the impression that it was a glamorous business, like hollywood, or the fashion industry. I had dreams. I would do path-breaking research, extend the frontiers of human knowledge. I was in it for the learning. I even described the process of learning as (pompousness alert) being akin to “cleaning a grimy glass pane, to let sunlight stream in through the windows of your cognitive abilities”. (To be fair, I was drunk.) As an academic, I thought I would be a celebrity, with fans lining up for my autographs and women shrieking and fainting with excitement when I entered the room. Like some kind of rock-star. That last bit should tell you something about my capacity for self delusion.

As is the case with anything you do for a significant enough period of time, reality set in, much like mustard gas that seeps through the little gap at the bottom of a door you thought was airtight and kills you. (And the twisted, bad analogies, they keep on coming – Heh Heh)

The reality is this: Academic research is like watching clothes getting washed in a laundromat. Most of the time nothing happens. You put in soiled clothes, add detergent and bleach, wait and wait and wait. Eventually, clean garments pop out, leaving you marginally better than before. You have made no significant contribution to the world, but you did manage to keep yourself occupied doing something trivially useful. You also listened to music, read a few journals, generally twiddled your thumbs, and caught up with the latest developments in the Virginia senatorial race (Incidentally, who do you support – George “M*c*ca” Allen, or James “I don’t want ’em b*tch*s in the Navy” Webb?Heh Heh).

Occasionally, a cute idea walks into the laundromat, chats you up, borrows your detergent and goes away, leaving you with nothing. Your hopes crushed, you go home, and come to terms with your mediocrity.

(Have you ever heard “Everyday is like sunday” by Morrissey. Please do – Heh Heh)

Very rarely, a *really* hot idea walks in and asks to borrow your detergent. You strike up a converation with her. She likes you. You ask her for her number, go on a date with her and she turns out to be the sweetest person in the world. One thing leads to another and you get married. Soon your brain is full of the babble of little cutesy papers. Sometimes you make lots of them, but mostly, it turns out that she’s not the breakthrough you thought she was; divorce ensues and you go back to the laundromat.

The good thing about academic papers is that you do not have to worry about them getting addicted to crack or becoming strippers. The bad thing about them is that they mostly turn out to be mediocre little sh*ts. With a miniscule likelihood, however, your papers become the talk of the world and they make you proud and well known. When THAT happens, you are successful and, as befits a true academic, you come to the conclusion that it was destined to be that way.

But until then, you have to find your happiness in watching weeks old laundry tumbling, through a dinner-plate sized glass hole.


3 Responses to “round and round”

  1. Tabula Rasa Says:

    nice analogy but i have to say it gets better after you graduate. the dinner plate becomes 20 inches.

  2. Heh Heh Says:

    thanks. i needed the motivation..

  3. Arthur Quiller Couch Says:

    Great simile.

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