April 7, 2011

The Methods Person

I have four people on my dissertation committee, each with a different area of expertise. My committee is already crowded, so I didn't have any room to add a "methods" person. This means that when I need advice on something complicated, especially something I'm coding in R (which none of my committee members use), I have to ask a professor who isn't on my committee. Since I'm afraid of two of our methodologists (for good reasons), this leaves one person, a junior faculty member who is both brilliant and kind to graduate students.

I always feel bad when I ask this professor for help because as the resident methods expert who isn't scary, he is constantly asked to help everyone else's graduate students with their methods problems. And because being a methods expert is like being a computer expert in that people are constantly asking you to solve their problems "because you're so good at this stuff" when they should be investing the time to learn for themselves.

So, I try to get as far as I can on my own, and then after working on my own for several months, I show up with my preliminary results and a long list of questions. Last week, I asked if I could come to his office hours to go over a simulation I had created for my dissertation. He told me I had done everything correctly, and then suggested several complicated next steps and a book that will help.

I purchased the book, and I'm going to do my best to read and work through it on my own. And then if I'm really, really stuck, I will ask for help again. But I'm trying to be self-sufficient at this point in my graduate career. Also, there are rumors that this professor is interviewing elsewhere (very frightening for our department) and I don't want to help the other department by making "escape from needy grad students" part of the attraction.

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