So this is research?
September 12, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I stay focused when starting a new job and not get too despairing/frustrated? Research assistant edition.

In the spring, I was on a trajectory to begin a professional masters program and move from the midwest to a new city. Instead, I moved home for a few months (not the midwest nor New City), and everything changed -- I encountered some pretty significant mental health issues, and I found that I couldn't really afford the professional program, at least not right now. So I readjusted and went quickly into job search mode.

I'm very fortunate to have found a research assistant position in the social sciences that's at a fascinating interdisciplinary research center. It wasn't what I was planning to focus on -- fairly different from the professional program, which involved more social justice/community work -- but it's by all accounts a solid place to learn, network, and get a feel for making contributions to research, even if I don't end up in academia.

I've been working the job for only a week, but I'm finding that the really computer-heavy tasks are more agitating than I imagined. I'm going to be doing a lot of copyediting, literature reviews, rewriting papers, and transcribing media, and only the last task puts me into a good flow-productive place. I find folks at the center to be kind, and I know they really come alive doing academic/intellectual work, but I really feel like I'm not really making progress towards my goals, but rather, playing out some script of Prestigious Intellectual Work that isn't especially helpful for me.

I know it's early, and I'm trying to be patient, but I don't love feeling like I'm in the wrong place, or that I'm settling and letting some of my deeper passions (teaching, counseling/encouraging others, getting out there in the community, making media) lie fallow.

So! My question for you all is essentially how do I get into a mindset where I accept that it's okay to have a little stability right now, pay the bills, and get what I can out of this gig? FWIW, I'm starting a second job teaching in a few weeks that will supplement my monies and provide more of the positive-yay-community mental uppers, I believe. But most of my time will be spent doing this large scale, super-incremental research that, frankly, I'm not feeling, and I don't want to get all depressed again, as I tend to be relentlessly hard on myself about whether I'm doing something true to myself or not.

tl;dr: How do I get used to this researcher life? Should I be getting used to it? Help me find stability/not get discouraged, please! Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Focus on what this stability will provide you. Pursuing your passions can be draining, so think of this as a time to build and strengthen your mental health. And if they pay is decent, use this money to save for when you're in the professional program. Even if you can't save up the tuition, having a cushion in grad school always helps.

But mostly try and think of this as a time to focus on you and your personal life.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:50 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll give two different strands of thought:

One, I've been in your position. I was working on my PhD program and took a part-time job at a prestigious center. I was doing really boring work, even more than your current tasks (e.g., researching rich people who can donate). It took about a day for me to get over how this job was wasting away my brilliant mind. I got over it because the job was easy and paid well. I could rest my brain and have a stream of money to my bank. I also was able to network with other people in the center, and by not being as busy or drained with harder work, I had the time to do this well. Which leads to my second point:

Take advantage of this interdisciplinary research center! I'm in the social sciences and have enjoyed my time in many of these centers. If there is particular professor whose work you like, talk to them about taking a bigger part of the project. Perhaps you can help collect data (which will give you the community aspect) or perhaps you can offer to analyze after transcribing (especially if you see patterns) which can lead to part of an authorship on a paper.

It will be fine! I'm happy to lend more advice on the field if you'd like.
posted by inevitability at 6:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation, but in the science/engineering field.

It can be tricky when you know that this isn't your passion, especially when you're surrounded by people that love it. Every bit of it, even the boring bits. Recognize that first of all, these people are not the norm. I get through it by:

- Not being upset with myself for not loving the job. Accepting that I don't love it. Recognizing that fact, and not dwelling on it or trying to convince myself of otherwise (therein lies madness, or at least delusion).
- Framing the job as just that - a job. Not a reflection of my worth, or my life, or anything more than that. A job that has decent coworkers, that pays my bills.
- Not letting my "lack of passion" get in the way of doing my job (ie. no procrastinating so that I can actually leave on time and enjoy my non-job life)
- Planning fun things in my evenings, and even meeting with friends on lunch breaks. This is my motivation to plow through my tasks.
- Getting through the really slogging academic stuff by using the Pomodoro technique
- Trying to challenge myself by networking and exploring some cool future opportunities (something that the academic side can be good for, depending on the nature of it)
- Complaining about work selectively, with non-work friends. But sparingly. Then forgetting about it and focusing on things I like a lot more.

Good luck, and know that there are others in the same spot!
posted by Paper rabies at 7:47 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

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