Where do ideas come from?

The other day, a colleague asked me if I would be interested in collaborating on an article.

Yes, indeed.  I’ll need another publication by the end of the calendar year.

The topic was similar to a topic I’ve been puttering with, so I started doing some research and uncovered some information that connects with another project.  And  what I found piqued my interest in the older project.

There’s an idea hibernating in there. Every so often, I poke it with a stick and it stirs, stretches, and resettles itself. But so far, it hasn’t awakened and turned into something publishable. I can’t force it to wake up; I just have to prod and wait.

As a grad student, I thought that I’d have lots of ideas and research projects when I became a professor. It hasn’t turned out that way.  I do have ideas, they do follow some general themes, and I do find ways to publish and maintain my qualifications, but there isn’t one big carrot-on-a-stick problem that gives my professional life meaning and purpose.

So it’s a little intimidating to consider what to say if someone asks, “What’s your research program?”

The very term “research program” suggests a kind of deductive approach to a professional career: starting with a general idea, thesis, specialty, or focus and developing it through specific projects.  But I think I’m more of an inductive researcher: each project reveals a bit more of an overarching theme.

Well, that’s off my chest. Now to work!

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