Something I never expected: to be scared that someone would steal my dissertation topic.
I recently (okay, not too recently–a year ago, in fact) changed my topic–a massive change, actually, with only the smallest of threads connecting my new topic to the old. The change came after an enthusiastic late-evening call from my adviser, who suggested that I consider this new topic because it hadn’t been done before, it’s a contained narrative, the sources are there, and it connects with a couple of the broader themes that I’m interested in (namely, the Cold War and late-60s/early 70s American liberalism). This new topic also happens to have a bit more funding- and job-getting opportunities than my former, much more regionally-focused, work. In short, it’s pretty much perfect.
I’m therefore scared to death that someone else is going to pick up this topic before I do. Or, worse yet, that someone already is working on it, and I just haven’t met her yet. Two people in my cohort started a project and headed off to the archives, only to find some other graduate student already hard at work and much further along in the project. Horrible. There have been a few results of this for me:
- I’m deliberately vague about my work for fear of someone stealing the idea. This includes even to close friends in the field, and extends to this blog. Which sucks, because I’d really like to get your ideas on this thing.
- Whenever I see an article or book that seems related to my topic, my heart skips a beat, I lose a little breath, and then my brain goes into panic along these lines: Oh, shit, someone scooped me. What will I do now? I suppose I could go back to my old topic. Or drop out. Yeah, maybe I should just do that. I’m done for as a historian. It’s over; time to go back to the tech world. But that’s no good, because there are no jobs there. What about the mortgage? What about my dog? What will she eat? What will I eat? You get the idea.
- I’ve gained a bit more insight into just how fucked-up this business is. See point #2.
Naturally, there’s nothing to be done but keep moving forward, hoping that I’m moving fast enough. But it feels so damned slow sometimes.