SoWhat/WhoCares/WhyBother?

… asked one of my committee members after trudging through a long and tedious draft of my master’s thesis proposal. Note that the paper was a proposal, not the end product, the thesis.

In Denver I attended the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists luncheon for scholarship winners. At the table, to my right, sat a master’s candidate who enthusiastically described the details of his research. The breadth and scope impressed me. When I asked him what significance his research held for the greater body of knowledge he stopped. He stopped everything: speaking, blinking, maybe even breathing.

Graduate level research demands non-refundable resources: time, energy and funding. Done right, the end product adds to the body of knowledge and subsequent researchers build from your work. Done poorly, the research is ignored entirely begging the question, “Why did you bother?”.

The impact-of, need-for, significance-of your research belongs in the first paragraph. Fellow academicians are not reading technical papers to solve a mystery. Tell readers up front why the research matters. An extensive literature review will be the starting point. If you are struggling to determine your research’s significance, ask committee members for help. Should neither you nor your committee discern any significance, then stop immediately and change course.

Taking a slightly different tack and asking “SoWhat/WhoCares/WhyBother?” in a broad sense allowed me to trim the fat. Earlier this year I absentmindedly offered to fill the position of a student group treasurer because I knew this group needed one. Never mind that I have no professional ties to this particular group of geologists, I am not even a geologist! I believed I was doing the board a favor, a terrible reason to make a year long commitment. In January I resigned my officer’s position much to everyone’s relief. An undergraduate student able to commit greater time, energy, and relevance filled the position.

Not every activity in the course of a day needs to have significance, but there should be a good reason why it is included on the calendar. Occasionally, groups, clubs, memberships have run their course and it is time to reassess the relevance of that activity. It may well be that our time is up and whatever position we hold cannot be filled until we vacate it first.

Conducting research, what is your “why bother”?

Overloaded with time commitments, what can you cut? Because in the end, “who cares”?

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