Shifting Can Be Adaptive
I want to reflect on a recent endeavour of mine – branching out into a new area of research. My research focuses on adult psychological stress (think sitting in traffic). However, I have become fascinated by childhood psychological stress. While this doesn’t seem like a big shift, it is like moving from personality to neuroscience. Stress in children is much more complicated than in adulthood and is a process that is continually evolving into late adolescence. So why the move? My general interest in people’s beliefs about stress is naturally leading me in this direction (and there is a grant available). So this shift is a natural shift that will come with many positives. What I should add is that it is not so much a shift in the sense of me leaving adult stress behind, but that I am branching out to also consider children.
What Does a Shift Look Like When You’re A Full Time Academic?
I am still going through the process of shifting and my experience may be different to others. I have started more than a year in advance of the grant. I dedicate one day each week for reading and synthesising the childhood stress literature. From just finding the literature, to working my way through some incredibly dense systematic reviews and theory papers, I can tell that 12 months of work will be pushing it, but doable.
It is hard carving out a whole day for just reading. It eats into time that I could be writing papers or doing teaching prep. But I use this as my leftover time. I am on a 40/40/20 workload. So I schedule my two days of research and two days of teaching first, and then my last day, by default, is this work. Service work gets slotted in between the gaps or eats into my reading day. This seems to work for me.
Is It Worth It?
This comes from the perspective of grant funding. If I am doing a years worth of work for a shot at a grant, what happens if I don’t get the grant? Was it all a waste of time? Well, I am seeing benefits already. Firstly, childhood stress research looks at schooling stress a lot. There are many relevant ideas from the adolescent literature applicable to my own teaching. This area is also giving me a greater appreciation for other factors that might also influence adult stress. So regardless whether or not I end up receiving this grant, I can see the usefulness of this endeavour for my own work.
Would I Do It Again?
Yes, in a heartbeat. Keep your core research interest going and then branch out to new areas, explore new ideas, read up on something unrelated to your work.You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to assimilate ideas from other fields or areas of work.
What About Your Experience?
Have you branched out to other areas before? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments!