On Education and Research


It's the night before my PhD orientation. I'll be spending the next few years working toward yet another degree from Columbia. It's still unclear where that'll lead me, but I already have aspirations for the kind of academic I'd like to mature into. I'm sure my perspective on certain matters will shift as soon as I get into the thick of research, despite my strongest convictions. And that's okay -- I don't doubt the severity of my naivete.

But I don't want to lose sight of what I believe today. By putting some thoughts to paper, I hope to create a record to revisit down the road, a doggy ear in a new chapter of my academic journey. It's my way of making a genuine commitment to my life as a researcher, so that I make out of the next five years something different from what I made of the previous five.

Some recurring advice I've heard about pursuing a PhD: my directive as a grad student is to perform research. Although this advice inspired confidence and excitement in my choice of career, one's responsibility toward research was too often juxtaposed with one's responsibility toward education. As much as academic institutions espouse the advancement of education, each individual only has so much time. And when push comes to shove, the burden of teaching is easily dismissed as an obstacle to research.

I'll certainly encounter this tension between research and education in the years ahead. At the core of this tension is the dilemma between teaching and learning. I was certainly once drawn to academia for its promise of life-long learning. After all, what is research but the continued pursuit of learning, beyond the extent of recorded knowledge? Yet as my ambition to learn continues to enchant me, my duty to teach gives me a sense of purpose.

I believe that, as an aspiring academic, it is my professional responsibility to convey knowledge and experience comprehensibly, instructively, and creatively. I hope to deliver on that responsibility, not just in good teaching, but in good writing. Teaching and writing are more than just formalities of the profession. These challenges warrant cognizance and reflection, to ensure that the knowledge conveyed is given the scrutiny it deserves.

I hope that as a PhD, my commitment toward education will enrich my research rather than hinder it. A good friend once remarked, "you haven't really learned something until you've taught it." My formative years as a teaching assistant couldn't agree more. In my experience, teaching has played a vital role in my learning. And when it comes to research, I imagine a similar dynamic will play out -- the only difference is that now I'll also be the one defining the material as I learn it.

I could ramble on, but this isn't supposed to be a manifesto. I already feel myself getting too self-conscious. But this won't be my last word on the subject. I aim to write here weekly, to keep track of my own progress, and to keep myself in a habit of coherently documenting my thoughts. And it won't be all lofty ideals. I'll be reflecting on more concrete aspects of my experience as a PhD student. I'll also be journaling my own research, and summarizing what I learned from others. In fact, this is going to be an outlet for whatever I feel like writing, which may include the absurd. Let's see where this goes.