The Lion and the Rabbit

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized
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When I was young, my dad once told me a joke:

A wolf comes across a rabbit typing away with abandon. The wolf, curious, asks the rabbit what it is typing. “My dissertation,” the rabbit says. “It’s about how rabbits kill wolves.”

“Rabbits don’t kill wolves,” the wolf says. “Wolves eat rabbits.”

“No, rabbits kill wolves. Come in to my den, I’ll show you.”

So they go into the den, the wolf sure he’s about to have a very easy meal.

Inside the den, a lion waits. He kills the wolf and starts eating him. While he’s eating, the rabbit goes back outside and continues work on the dissertation.

The moral of the story: it doesn’t matter what your dissertation is about; all that matters is who your adviser is.

I never quite got the joke, I don’t think. I mean, I thought it was funny, but a little bit ridiculous (even putting aside the talking animals or the lion in a rabbit’s den). How could an adviser have THAT much influence, make THAT much of a difference?

Well, I recently changed advisers. And now I understand.

My old adviser is a nice guy. He was very helpful when he could be, but we just didn’t fit together. Part of it was personality, I think, but most of it was that we had different goals. When he told me that I could “Teach three or four classes a semester, and go home every day and just be done, or grade papers,” I thought that sounded great. He thought it sounded like hell. He wants to be at a research university (and he is), but doesn’t know how to handle someone who wants to be at a teaching school (like me). So we parted, and on good terms.

My new adviser is awesome. Aside from understanding the desire to be at a teaching college, and understanding that publication is good, but not my end-all goal, he has become my lion. He actually said to me “the best approach to your project is whichever one is easiest for you to write.” Where my old adviser told me I should consider a sixth year in the program, because I wouldn’t be ready to go on the job market, my new adviser said “why not just finish this year?” and “The jobs you want won’t even be posted until January. Worry about things then. For now, just write.”

So now, instead of trying to fit into a mold of research and methodology that I don’t feel comfortable in, that I felt would be on a certain level a disingenuous representation of who I am, I can instead focus on the ideas of the project, the parts that matter (to me). I can investigate questions in depth, looking for the core of what they are asking, rather than presenting a bunch of qualitative research to answer one or two somewhat broad questions.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with qualitative research. It’s very important, vital to progress. But it’s not for me. I want to do the higher order thinking. I want to consider an issue from as many angles as possible. I want to lay the groundwork so that someone can take the suggestions or arguments that I made and develop good research questions. I want to lay the groundwork that other people use to do qualitative research. At the end of the day, who’s going to be more famous in the field? The person doing the qualitative research. They’re the ones that will have tangible results.

And I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be a famous research. I want to be a good teacher. And while I may still find a certain level of ‘fame’ (within the field), it’s not my goal. Just like someone who focuses on research may be a great teacher, it’s a nice bonus, but not the point of my job.

And now I have the hope, the belief, and the confidence that I can actually DO this. I can finish my dissertation. And why? Because I’ve got a lion in my den. Want to come see?

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