Sunday, March 13, 2011

The lost episodes of acadmic research

All of our favorite old TV shows seem to declare a "lost episode" with the imagery of a dusty room with canisters and spindles of old film. Could it be that our academic world has the same dusty rooms and forgotten story lines? This weekend I began to wonder. I am known for being organized (which is a nice way of saying that I am obsessive about my work space). In my home office, I had a group of file folders neatly labeled and in a little stack. The stack sat on top of my printer and was shuffled about as the very urgent issues of the past two months took center stage. I grouped files together, moved them to the appropriate "must do" or "work on when time" and "back burner" sections of my file system. I neatly labeled tabs and updated time lines on the manila files. Now that our on-site SACS visit is finished, I reviewed the files to re-categorize and to tidy up the work space (I hate piles). Everything was going smoothly until I came across THE LOST FILE.

I stared at it slightly dumbfounded. I picked it up. Felt confused. Put it down. Picked it up and heard myself muttering, "what are you?" to the file.

I saw the tab, neatly labeled in my color-coded system (green for on-going research) and opened the file to find printed out journal articles, notes in the margins, a piece of paper with my handwriting noting very rough ideas for research and a sketch of a time frame for submission...from TWO YEARS AGO! Yes, the file has somehow escaped my slightly obsessive-compulsive reign of folders and excel spreadsheets of to-do items. I was staring at a lost opportunity.

As I glanced around my orderly work space I pondered what to do with the Lost File. Should it be updated and moved into the "ongoing research" area? Should it simply be forgotten since there is no doubt I have enough to do right now? I stared down at the file, glanced through the articles, and felt that familiar spark of interest re-ignite. This was research I wanted to do. So what if the work in the file was outdated. I could update it. I could add it to the (overwhelmingly full, nearing panic-sized proportion) to-do list. I couldn't lose this opportunity. Plus, I hate wasted work.

The whole thing has me shaking my head. Could I have seriously forgotten about a project? Has this happened to anyone else? How strange! But, just like those never seen, lost episodes of TV shows, I couldn't help but feel a strong curiosity and eagerness to explore the file. Lost? No more! Let's see what this file's previously un-aired story line adds to my journey.

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