I began keeping a semi-regular journal in middle school, filling page after page with my angsty musings and disjointed thoughts. After almost 9 years of this habit, I still find myself surprised at exactly what I choose to write down – and the things that I choose to leave out. As I flipped through my entries from this past month, I realized that I have really been struggling. Life isn’t easy, nothing lost nothing gained and all that, but I think that in being so busy, I hadn’t been making time to actually reflect on how I was doing. Over the last few weeks, there were many days where I would wake up and not want to get out of bed. There were many mornings where I would come into my little office in the Science Center and I wouldn’t be able to write anything for an hour or more. There were many nights where I would find myself staring at a book that I had been furiously annotating and realize that I had no idea what I was getting out it. And so, these past few weeks forced me to really start the long and hard work of self-care. For every negative thought that I had about myself or the world around me, I made a habit to counter with a positive one. I took long walks in the early morning before work. I read for fun – even when I felt like I didn’t deserve to since I didn’t write three pages the day before. I let myself try a different iced tea from my favorite tea shop every day. I went for long runs until I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. It took a lot of effort to feel like myself again.
But what did I end up getting done this past month? I delved deeper into my summer research project, exploring how researchers and participants of the Hawthorne experiments in the 1930s worked through the process of constructing data. Doing historical work over the past few months has really changed how I think about how we come to know something. My advisor and I had many a conversation about how the Hawthorne researchers may not have precisely known what was important about the data that they were collecting, but they were driven by an urgent inkling that they were capturing something that would prove to be useful if not to themselves but to future generations. Indeed, the Hawthorne experiments all but developed an entirely new paradigm in business studies and led to the genesis of the field of human relations. But moreover, I would argue that the Hawthorne Works project identified that the way researchers felt about their work being a part of something bigger than themselves can be traced to how we talk about big data today. A major thing that I had to work through this summer was feeling empowered enough to make a claim about the world from historical sources. It took a lot to be confident enough to say something about my research that pushes in a new direction. As I am arguing in the paper that I’m working on, the ideological contouring present in our discourse about big data cannot be separated from conversations that social science has been having for decades. In dealing with “elusive phenomena” (as Fritz J. Roethlisberger was so concerned with), social scientists have to consider the very ways that they take subjective experiences and shape them into data that has a purpose. If I’ve learned anything from delving over raw academic materials from the early-mid 20th century, there is no such thing as research for research’s sake.
Going forward, I hope to keep working on this paper and possibly turning it into a thesis chapter. Of course, I have to lay out the parameters of what the hell I’m going to write a thesis about, but I’m trying to take things a little at a time. August is going to be a busy month for me, with writing my Fulbright application, working as a research assistant for a mentor of mine, and preparing to start my next adventure in Paris. This summer has reminded me of how resilient I am, and perhaps how much I have to be. While I can’t say that I’m not excited to be home for a few weeks, I’m going to miss the intellectual milieu of Cambridge, and I’m sure that I’ll be back some day soon.