One common theme of my musings on research life is about stepping back a little. Gaining a different viewpoint on your work can reap dividends. Whilst it can happen serendipitously, I’ve found it can be encouraged through discussion between friends and colleagues. Of course, writing research papers forces you to question the true understanding you have of your field, but I always tend to consider this as preaching to the ‘already converted’ subset of the population. This comes with a subtle, yet noticeable, effect on my own mental processes.
I’ve had the pleasure of forging some long lasting friendships through my journey in academia, and I often use these people as sounding boards for various aspects of my life, not just research. Recently, I was in discussion with a friend and colleague, Sam Illingworth, on the lack of forums within academia that focus on the philosophical aspects of our job. A subset exist, but they are too focused on specific disciplines and open only to those within.
So, where are these open forums? Do you know of any? I get the feeling that, in some ways, this has slowly, and perhaps forcefully, petered out of academic life. That’s a pity since this likely formed a critical part of groups forging new ideas in the past, including those who now chaperone emerging researchers. Have we forgotten how to encourage freethinking and to reserve some time for the luxury of broad discussions as we all chase those metrics? It’s debatable. It’s also a pity. One could argue that from such forums raise emerging areas of research and thought. What happened to the coffee house clubs of long ago? I wonder whether we are all so numbingly satisfied with the speed at which we can conjure up any information from our phone, it stops up from craving other forms of engaging with ideas.
However, what’s stopping you or I resurrecting these forums? I can heartedly recommend finding those valuable sounding boards you may meet from time to time. I would recommend watching this space for an upcoming opportunity along these lines. It’s amazing what a schnitzel and a beer in Vienna can bring out of people.