why do researchers choose the disciplines they do?

I been giving some thought lately to my peers’ career choices. Why do faculty choose the disciplines they do? There are the obvious reasons, like self-efficacy. For example, a physics professor probably pursued a Ph.D. in physics because she found herself good at it. An English professor may have been honored for his writing.

But I think there’s something else underlying these choices. Consider some of the extremes, such as mathematics and philosophy, or social work and education. Is there something about the determinism of mathematics that makes it attractive to certain personalities? Are there certain types of people who enjoy reveling in logic and abstraction? Do these characteristics of these areas of thought make people feel safe somehow? And the more humanitarian fields: is it driven by a strong desire to exercise values and morality? Scientists are also interesting: does the search for truth make them feel noble, or is their something trilling about the hunt for explanations?

I suppose we all have in common the desire to fill our lives with as much thought as possible. Is it insatiable curiosity or just a particularly low threshold for amusement? By that I mean we can engage ourselves in the smallest of details in the natural and artificial worlds, where as others, who could care less about research, require a much greater magnitude of novelty to be engaged.

2 thoughts on “why do researchers choose the disciplines they do?

  1. Thanks for sharing! It always seems a little crazy that anyone researches anything. It requires what seems to me an unnatural degree of persistence and curiosity, which makes humanity all the more intriguing of a creature.

  2. i remember clearly the day i became a linguist. i was sitting in a french renaissance thought class in north carolina. the professor had given us a chapter of a book to read for class that day. the reading was about historical french linguistics. we read about all of the idiomatic expressions the grammar of which now seems confusing. the author of the book explained where they came from socially and grammatically. he also discussed many other expressions with parallel structures which have now fallen out of use in the french language. that was it. right then. seventeen years old i became a linguist. twelve years later i am still trying to answer questions i had after reading that chapter. questions about language change. questions about meaning. questions about why communities embrace one expression and abandon others.

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