Perhaps my mother will be the only one who reads this (Hi, Mom!) but that's fine with me.
You may be wondering about my blog's title, "Hysterical contingency." Full credit for this exceptionally punny and relevant name goes to my boyfriend, Andy. You see, I have long been interested in why some ecological restoration projects turn out better than others, and what restoration practitioners can do to remedy this. To explore these questions, I joined a restoration ecology lab in the fall of 2012 to start working toward my Ph.D. I learned quickly that "restoration is the acid test for ecology," and conversely, that ecological theories should be able to explain restoration outcomes. There were plenty of applied questions rattling around in my head, but with little actual restoration experience and even littler understanding of community assembly theories and what had already been studied, I didn't know what to do with them. It took 2+ frustrating years of trying to come up with a "conceptual framework" that could shape my questions into some sort of logical dissertation before I finally (thought I had) struck ecological gold with the idea of "historical contingency." The theory of historically contingent community assembly explains how ecological communities are structured by events that occurred, and species that were present, in the past. This seemed absolutely relevant to my questions about whether the early success of a restoration is critical to its outcome. For instance, does planting in a "bad year" (e.g. a drought) doom a restored prairie forever? What about a failure to eradicate the vegetation you're trying to replace with natives? If community assembly is historically contingent, these sorts of questions about the establishment of a restoration are incredibly relevant. Plus, testing them would shed light on the legitimacy of this theory in ecology! I wouldn't go so far as to say I was "confident" going into my proposal defense (my department's final step in the qualifying exam process to earn Ph.D. candidacy), but I did believe I was well on my way to being on the right track. But boy, was I wrong. My applied questions were good, and my experiments were fine... but my committee just didn't buy the "historical contingency" angle. I needed to "take a step back and think about my conceptual framework," something my graduate advisor had repeated almost uncannily to me for something like a year (two years?) before I even figured out what a "conceptual framework" was. Not exactly what you want to hear when nearing the end of year 3! Anyway, "hysterical contingency" seems to magically represent so many different aspects of my graduate experience so far, I don't even want to elaborate on the metaphor for fear of ruining its perfectness.
Perhaps I will have a new blog title someday, when my overarching writing theme is more clear, and I'm less bitter about this never-ending search for a conceptual framework. But for now, I give you...
Hysterical Contingency: The Blog.
You can expect tidbits on ecological restoration, graduate school, life, native plant gardening, and the things that keep me up at night-- like false dichotomies (applied versus basic science, academics versus practitioners, faith versus science, democrats versus republicans...) Just kidding about that last one, I probably won't ever get into politics. Probably.
P.S. If you're wondering, I passed that dissertation proposal defense just fine and have already made significant progress toward my "new" conceptual framework. I think...