One of the drawbacks of working on my dissertation so far from my graduate program's lab is the relative absence of friendly listeners for having more casual conversations about the process of inquiry that is involved in extending and writing up my research, and also what's sometimes called "confessional debugging"*.
In a conversation with P. today I realized how much not having those conversations is a drag on my dissertation, and I started thinking about how I suppress those conversations on my own, for fear of being too nerdy or too opaque, or that this nerdiness/opacity would turn people off.
I suppose it might turn people off. But this work is the place that I spend something like thirty-plus hours a week thinking about (officially -- and more, unofficially): sharing about where I am and what I'm working on and what the challenges are is terribly important to me, even if there isn't all that much to get help on.
So I am going to -- from time to time -- offer a "State of the Inquiry" here, in which I will give a statement not so much of the progress (change) in what I'm working on, but on the questions I'm facing now -- however "non-interesting" they feel to me. I expect that the changes in "what is the current question" will change from week to week, and that will reflect progress, but (rather than focus on accomplishment) I will set out to represent "what am I learning and asking about today?"
To be specific: the "state of the inquiry" isn't about:
- asking for help or complaining about where I'm stuck
- showing off what I did or how clever I am
- planning how much to do next
- what are the questions I'm thinking about?
- who else is thinking about these questions the way I am?
- where am I stuck? (if I'm stuck at all -- but this isn't complaining, just identifying the challenge)
* Nerd Merit Badges are making noises about offering a "Rubber Ducky" merit badge for helping debug by standing there listening, which is a much cuter image than that of confession.