Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Academic Flailing

This is a topic I've intended to write on for a while now: academic flailing. I'm bringing this up now because I've been trying to learn how to do something new all on my own and it's taken me months to only be half successful with nothing to really show for it yet.

What's been going on is I have been working on a paper with some friends/colleagues since December. We originally intended to have the paper written and submitted some time in February or March. If you check the time stamp on this post you'll note that I'm writing this in mid June. So we're a "little" off target, needless to say.

The paper is, broadly speaking, a review on niche modeling. Somehow or another it was determined that we should DO a species distribution model to make a figure illustrating some of the points we were making in the paper. The only problem is that no one in our group does this kind of modeling. And I ended up being the one to take on this task while writing and editing continued.

Cut to the punch line: it's been two months, I've sort of learned enough about what I'm doing to be dangerous, but the result thus far hasn't ended up being particularly useful. I'm stubborn as hell and I'm going to do this, but I'm getting frustrated and exhausted fighting with this thing day after day, week after week (month after month). It's been a very steep learning curve, trying to teach myself how to do this thing no one in my lab knows how to do. I would seek out the help of outside people, but I feel like I need a basic understanding before I can even begin to ask them intelligent questions.

And so I've been flailing.

Science is, often, directed flailing. You flail, and flail, and then flail some more. And then sometimes, maybe, you end up somewhere. It's a lot like me swimming. I can keep myself from drowning, and if I point myself in a particular direction I can get from point A to point B. But it isn't pretty to watch.

It's kind of a funny analogy, unless you're the one who's been trying to keep their head above water for an obscene amount of time. And I'm tired, damn it.

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