Put down the book, and no one gets hurt…

Alternatively titled: Why didn’t anyone tell me (earlier) that I could do a Ph.D. in the history of science?

So here’s the story: I work in a geology department. I’m not tied to the department specifically, but my office is there and, as it happens, it’s just a few steps away from the geology library. So this afternoon I made my way over and checked out some books for the Planet Earth Reading Challenge. I started with Naomi Oreskes’s The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science. And I’m really enjoying it…perhaps too much. And that makes it dangerous–because it’s giving me ideas (damn those books and their ideas!). What the book is really telling me, however, is that I’m a little slow on the uptake. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was a Geology and Russian double major in college, at least I was until the last semester of my senior year, when it became apparent that I could not write two theses and leave college with my sanity in check (and to graduate with a B.S. in Geology you HAD to write a thesis). Although my sanity is still questionable, I’m just a little bummed to discover, too late in my academic career, that a viable option existed in which my love of science could be intertwined with my love of the humanities. (Not to mention, one has a better chance finding some funding to work in the history of science, whereas in English? Not so much. Sisyphus at Academic Cog has a great post about this by the way).

Now, as Apparent Dip likes to tell me, I can still do this fun history of science research on my own, but to that I say: harumph. I know I can do it on my own, but I would like to teach it as well, and at the college level, which requires….a ph.d. Besides, he can cheerfully inform me of my options because he has long had the luxury of knowing what he wants to study. He loves geology. From the moment he went on his first field trip in his freshman year of college, he knew. Me? I’m still trying to figure out what I wanted to be yesterday much less when I grow up. I love everything (as a brief glance at my CV can tell you)–it’s a rare subject that doesn’t fascinate me in some way. Unfortunately for me, there is no such thing as a ph.d. program in everything. But it is comforting to know that I have a billion back-up plans hovering in the wings. And one day, I’ll find a way to incorporate everything into one massive dissertation that will truly earn the name of “loose baggy monster.” Until then? I’ll be opening my books with caution…


9 responses to this post.

  1. Knowing what I’ve wanted to be since Freshman year is a gift…and a curse. One downside is that I wonder what else I would have liked. For example, I think I would have been a good “real” doctor. After all, I got all of that medical school knowledge in utero, I bet most programs would have been a breeze. At least you are trying things! Imagine the same discussion with pizza. Thermochronic knows he loves mushroom and black olive, so much so that he spends the next 11 years getting a PhD in mushroom and black olive pizza. But Loose Baggy Monster can’t decide, so she spends the next 11 years trying all different kinds of pizzas, some good, some crappy, but at least she knows.

    I obviously have a poor background in analogy creation and metaphorology, but you get my point.


  2. Thermochronic: Yet another way to look at the pizza analogy–perhaps all of those years of sampling different pizzas explains why Loose Baggy Monster needs a treadmill and is broke on top of it all! 🙂


  3. (Let’s try this again, with the proper link.)

    I loved the Rejection of Continental Drift, too. If you’re enjoying the history of science on geologic topics category, you might also enjoy The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism by Ronald L. Numbers, who is a professor of the history of science at UW-Madison. As a U/Pb geochronologist I found it very interesting to understand the historical roots of the “creation science” movement. Numbers gives a very thorough, evenhanded, and respectful treatment to the subject.

    In a more biographical context, I greatly enjoyed The Seashell on the Mountaintop by Alan Cutler. It covers the life of Neils Stensen (a.k.a. Nicholas Steno) of “Law of Superposition” fame – but a man of many, many more talents than I imagined.


  4. Ron: I will definitely check out the Ronald Numbers book, and I’m glad to get your suggestion for The Seashell on the Mountaintop. I had debated on whether to add that one to the list or not, so I think I will! Thanks!


  5. It’s true: books are dangerous! 😉


  6. I think you should become a creative nonfiction writer, like john McPhee! You can immerse yourself in all SORTS of subjects, write about them, and then get recruited to teach. Hazaah. I’ve solved everything.


  7. Sylvia: And in my house, they’re physically dangerous as well–too many piles of doom building up! 🙂

    Courtney: I would LOVE to be a creative nonfiction writer, but I’m plagued by the sense that I’m not as creative as I would need to be nor as good at writing as I would need to be. But I have to admit, that this is the option that I secretly desire (well, not so secretly now)…


  8. Posted by SB on January 12, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    There are very, very few jobs in History of Science in the U.S. The reason there are so many postdocs is that people sometimes have to spend five to seven years as a postdoc before they can find a position.


  9. SB: That seems to be a trend in the fields I’m interested in–no jobs. English is abysmal and it’s made even worse by a general paucity of postdoc positions as well. Good thing I’m not in school for the money! 🙂


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