Starting a Research Career

(Wednesday, June 15, 2005, 12:37 p.m.)

copied from Myspace blog

After 3.5 years here, I finally have a journal publication accepted. My advisor Olaf and I had our paper on my model of working memory and task-oriented behavior selection accepted in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Olaf tells me this is a major success. I'm working on another paper at the moment attempting to develop a scale to measure volition in natural and artificial systems. This is probably almost ready for submission, but there are some unsatisfying aspects with my proposal that will probably need to be ironed out over the years, some of which came to light when I applied my scale to ants. Ants, it turns out, have the capacity for operant conditioning, and some also have a kind of working memory, though it's probably specialized to storing the best vector back to the nest after foraging. Crafty little buggers, ants.

I believe that a research career is what I want. The main question I always find myself asking, however, is where the best place to do that research is. Olaf tells me that academia is really the viable option if you want to do basic science research, and I have to admit that when I look at all of the textbooks and the interesting publications, most of these seem to be written by professors and/or graduate students. Research in industry tends to be more product-oriented. While I'd like to be in on the R&D of Commander Data, however, it seems like the basic scientific understanding of cognition isn't adequate, yet, for that, so basic science research into the neural mechanisms of cognition (and volition) seems the route for me.

What I still fail to understand, however, is how I'm supposed to get any research done when I'm teaching 1 or 2 classes, attending committee meetings, mentoring grads and undergrads, doing tenure requirements, reviewing papers and grants, and maybe running a lab. I marvel that professors are able to do all of this and still have a family life. Still, being a professor would actually make me a part of a community (which is something that has been lacking, in general, for me as a student here). It might be nice to have some positive effect on individuals interested in doing cognitive science research, and having some influence over the educational system that trains future cog-sci researchers.

So, I'm currently leaning towards following the likely post-doc, assistant professorship, tenure route that Olaf would probably suggest, but I'm wondering if I have the stuff for juggling all of those various hats a professor has to wear. This fall, at least, will give me some idea how I will get along teaching undergrads.

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