A while back, lmw posted about the importance of being interesting in one’s scholarly work. I commented at the time that being interesting was really important, for if your work was not interesting enough for people to want to read it, then you were wasting your time even doing it. She then clarified that to her “interesting” was about making a contribution to everyday issues rather than totally shocking the sociological world with some very wise insight.
I am now facing this dilemma, and it’s particularly stressful to me. I’ve recently finished a project that is on a topic/issue that is relatively “interesting,” meaning that other scholars probably find some inherent worth in pursuing. There is the opportunity to continue working on this project and contribute to knowledge in an area that has massive public policy implications. The topic is related to who I am as a person as far as group status goes.
There is another project, however, that is not as “interesting” as in it’s pretty low status and does not have public policy implications. But it’s much more personal than topic 1, as it’s related to a core part of my identity. I am getting a lot of joy out of this project, while topic one stresses me out every time i think about it. Topic 2 is illuminating how I think of my identity in some very profound ways, but may not be as interesting to a wider audience. Topic 1 is pretty much confirming something I already know but that is very interesting to a wider audience. There’s also the issue that topic 2 is ethnographic while topic 1 is not. We all know the relative low status position of ethnographic work versus that that is more quantitative.
But I cannot devote time to both of them. And as much as I want to be interesting, I also came to graduate school with an ideal in mind that I could work on what I wanted to work on. The more I become entrenched in this culture, I realize that academia is as much about pleasing others and proving your legitimacy as are other professions, but maybe in a more relaxed way. Pandering to what others think is interesting (and marketable, both in the publication and job markets) is just like other jobs. I am obviously naive, but this is very disappointing to me.
So what do I do? I’m asking although I know what I will do, which is what I always do. I do what I want to do. But now that I have kids, and think about the importance of supporting my family one day, I wonder if being a bit more diplomatic and practical is worth sacrificing my ideals. I wonder that if I continue with the ideal of doing things that are interesting to me but not necessarily interesting to others if I’m setting myself up for even more disappointment, and ultimately, failure.