The Chronicle has an article about Dr. Bradley Voytek who is a neuroscientist who also studies zombies, and uses the topic of zombies to engage people in the field of neuroscience. It has caused him some grief, as several of his advisors suggest that he not include his “zombie research” on his c.v. because it could be a hindrance to his finding gainful employment in academia.
The one place he has been hesitant to promote, or even reveal, his undead-brain research is on his curriculum vitae. As he applied for his current postdoctoral research position last year, his Ph.D. adviser, Robert T. Knight suggested he “scrub it clean” of zombies.
“I didn’t want him to be known as a ‘media guy,'” says Mr. Knight, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley. To be taken seriously as a researcher, Mr. Knight cautioned, you should avoid seeming like a limelight-grabber and balance fun outreach with hard-core science.
Mr. Voytek’s partner in the zombie research, Timothy Verstynen, received an equally discouraging response from one of his advisers.
While finishing postdoctoral research and beginning his faculty job search, Mr. Verstynen was told by a senior adviser that he considered his outreach work a “stupid idea” and a huge career mistake.
“I think it was a kind of protectiveness,” says Mr. Verstynen, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Berkeley in 2006. Anything that detracts from research could hurt a young researcher on the job market.
It’s got me thinking about the field of theology and biblical studies. Are there topics that would hurt a young scholar’s research and job prospects in Christian academia? Would studying theology and the works of Joss Whedon, or biblical studies and Star Trek automatically lead to a young scholar’s c.v. being rejected by a Christian institution?
Would blogging about the intersection between theology and science fiction be evidence that a scholar is not serious about the field of theology? Is it too fringe? Is it okay so long as they primarily do “serious research” and leave the geek stuff to be done as a hobby? Should these interests be hidden until a scholar has found employment, or has achieved tenure?
For those of you who are academics, were you ever discouraged from exploring an avenue of research because it wasn’t serious or respectable enough?