Why are you doing what you do?

Why are you doing what you do?

After watching Dr. Pruden’s TEDx Talk from the Spring. She talks about her journey in becoming the person she is today and her motivations for being a professor. I found this talk to be incredibly compelling, especially because as someone she advises, I often don’t see this side of her.

I see the person she talks about in her TED talk. The constantly working, caring, tired, and trying person who is doing the best that she can and that is honestly pretty good. The revelation she presented about realizing why she wanted to become a professor and the reality, really hit me hard on why am I here. I don’t think Dr. Pruden gives herself enough credit for also advising students and helping them through their lives, but she does highlight a crucial point. Why do I want to get a PhD?

Honestly I think a lot of it is for the same reasons that Dr. Pruden mentioned. I’m good at school and I want to try to improve access to clean water for generations. I haven’t decided if that means I should be an academic or if I want to try government or international work but I don’t want that ideal to get lost. The biggest problem I’ve noticed with life goals is that life often gets in the way.

This has happened to me and I think most people for my entire life. I want to help people and to make that central to my life, but I also need some releases and activities to keep me happy. I struggle with the idea that I should be working all the time but sometimes I just need to remember:

I really value the work I do and I think that research is a lot of what propels us forward, but I also like field work and getting my hands dirty. The one thing we all need to be able to do is step back and see if we could answer the phone. You are not going to do everything for everyone but being able to put things in context definitely helps me think of what I want to do.


4 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you, this semester I am taking one class from Dr. Pruden, every time she post am announcement, at the end she will say "happy studying". I am inspired as I often regard learning and doing homework are labor works that required for solving real-world problems. But it could also be fun as I dive into materials and project what I think into words on paper. That related to what she said in TEDex as all these behaviors should come from hearts, not by requirements or we think we have to do.

  2. Unknown says:

    I think Dr Pruden really nailed it when she said she lost touch with her humanity, especially sleeping 3 hours a day and boiling down her life to working and caregiving. I think this is the general of view of scientists from the outside, and but also think it is incredibly detrimental, and has given rise to the dishonesty in science. It is absurd to think that if someone wants to make a difference and do good science they should have no life and no aspirations besides working all the time, but that is the culture we find ourselves in, and it seems clear to me, that pressure to constantly produce and competition between peers escalating to higher levels, has lead to the chronic system of data picking and various other forms of cheating in academia.

  3. Matt B says:

    I think everyone in graduate school, or anyone who has every pursued academia, has thought about the work/life balance and have been relatively disheartened by what it entails. For me I view it (being a professor, or a PhD student, etc) as an arms race. Everyone is trying to do more, publish more, research more, fund more, and until we (as a collective group) decide enough is enough those who work more will achieve more and push everyone to follow in their foot steps. People who work 60 hours a week will (normally) achieve more than those who work 40 hours a week. Eventually, you will have to work 60 hours a week to keep up, and some will then go to 65 or 70, continuing to push the envelope. Because we are commonly graded against ourselves the more we put in the more we are expected to put in. I am not entirely sure this is a bad thing, at least in moderation, but I feel that in academia is departing (departed?) from moderation. I am curious if there is a breaking point, where the expectations become too great and (more than it already is) exclusive. What if the expectation becomes so astronomical that students who would make great professors, or scientists, or researches decide to 'do something else with their lives' strictly because they want to still have a life. Is academia better off? I say no.

    I personally think it is great that Dr. Pruden has shared a lot of her feelings, pitfalls, and fears. It is humanizing, relatable, and comforting to an extent, but how many academics went through these things (as students and/or professors)? How many of them then went on to then perpetuate the very same problems they struggled with for generations that came after them? I think recognizing some of the problems with academia is a great first step, but at some point we should do what we do best and try and figure out some solutions.

  4. Shiqiang says:

    I enjoy reading your post and the cup metaphor. As scientist and engineer in this competitive environment, we definitely need to take good care of ourselves first and reexamine our conditions from time to time. We cannot bury ourselves in tons of workload. Asking ourselves questions about our original intentions or core values can be a great choice to stay on the right track. If we cannot take good care of ourselves first, we will be other people's liability rather than a problem-solver or life-changer.

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