Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Radical (Yet Wonderful) Change in Course


~Me (2006), my shop at Renfair, studying for my Master's~
I've been in the academic business for most of my adult life - if I wasn't a student, I was an instructor, often both simultaneously. My research focus has always centered around ethical controversies, particularly those regarding genetics and assisted reproduction technologies. While I enjoy these topics and know them well, I have come to realize that I do not love them, I would not pursue them (or any bioethical issue) outside of an academic environment, and researching and writing about them would not benefit me professionally. An ironic realization, since I recently decided to finish a large research project on emerging assisted reproduction technologies through Wright State University with intent to publish. 

Imagine my dread, if you will, when I decided last week to approach my chair and tell him that my heart wasn't in the project, that I felt as though I was going against the grain, against my own nature - the project didn't feel right. Imagine his disappointemnt when I told him I had an alternative project, one that he could not advise me on because it was too far removed from his expertise.

"What's it about?" He asked, intrigued.

"Millinery," I said.

"What's that?" He frowned.

"Hat making," I said.

His immediate expression was one of bewilderment. Hat making, indeed! A far cry from Aristotelean ethics, to be sure! You'd have thought that I'd handed him a screaming baby! It was at this moment that I opened my purse and whipped out a 160-page handwritten millinery notebook I discovered some 15-years ago at an antique shop in Westerville, Ohio. It didn't take me more than two minutes to explain the new project to him (based on this notebook), and when I was done, he was convinced of my sincerity and passion - moreover, he was convinced of the project's validity: it is an original work with local historical relevance. My regret is that I will lose him as my chair, but he assured me that when my project proposal is brought before the COLA committee for approval, I will have his vote. 

This afternoon, the department director approved the new project for preliminary research and she agreed that I need to focus my energies on a topic that I am passionate about. The project's scope is historically significant to the Dayton area, fashion history, and pulls from several academic disciplines, including public history, women's studies, African-American studies, and Progressive Era industry (relative to the garment, textile, and millinery trades). Interestingly, I began the research for this new project last summer (apart from my initial project), viewing it as a personal endeavor rather than a professional one. It had not occurred to me then that I was not bound to bioethical controversies (I have been immersed in the topic for so long) or that my passion for fashion had any academic merit. I am delighted to say that I am reformed and ever thankful for the support and encouragement of my academic counsel! 

Can you believe it? I get to research, write, and publish on a topic that I love with university backing - Holy Moly! :)

For more information on my new research topic and to follow along, please visit the S.D. Barker Project.

Blessings and happy sewing!

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