This weekend I took yet another, and final, day-long bus trip, this time to Northern Ireland. This was my first time ever visiting the north, and only my second time leaving the Republic of Ireland since I arrived seven weeks ago. The bus took us to Dunluce Castle, the Giant’s Causeway, and the city of Belfast. Once again, we were fortunate with the weather, with the only rain coming while we drove between locations, with sunny skies nearly every time we stopped. I was most surprised by the striking natural and historical beauty of Dunluce Castle. Prior to this trip, I had not heard of the castle or understood its unique location. Having been in Ireland for many weeks now, I have seen my fair share of castles, ranging from the modernized and active Dublin Castle to ruins along the side of the motorway. Most of these were located in fairly ordinary places, often on the high ground, but generally lost in the vastness of the Irish countryside. Even the Rock of Cashel, perched on a prominent plateau, is surrounded by miles of rolling hills. Dunluce Castle sits atop a sheer cliff on the northern edge of the Irish coast. The structure’s stones blend almost seamlessly into the rocks of the cliff, leading down to the crashing waves and rough seas below. The brilliance of the green grasses around the castle and the bright blue water that stretches to the horizon and beyond highlight the dark grays and browns of the castle and cliffs. Although the castle itself is now in ruin, it is hard to fathom how it was ever built and has sustained centuries of high winds and punishing waves.
Although I cannot make any judgements on how professional success is defined broadly within Ireland, I have noticed distinct differences between how success is viewed during my internship and how it is perceived in America. In my past experience, professional success is most often measured by financial gain. Even during my tenure working for my local parish, our biggest “successes” were instances when we received a particularly large donation or grant. When I coached youth soccer, players’ success was obviously measured in performance and progress in their ability, but the club’s success was marked by our enrollment figures and the amount of money that brought in. In school, my success is marked by receiving the highest grade possible on an assignment, paper, or in a class.
My research team has a much different outlook on success. Despite the many moving parts and participants (during my time eight different individuals have been involved in this project), the team has not even decided how many papers they are looking to write with the research we are conducting. Rather than setting a goal and working towards it, they are pursuing answers to questions they have yet to ask, open to this work taking them in any direction. There is never talk of selling their research or data, and none of the contributing members seem concerned about whose name will be featured on the final papers. Success in marked not by any tangible figure, but by discovering surprising trends or phenomena through painstaking research, even if those results provide no benefit to a potential argument. While this attitude may be standard within academic communities, it is a foreign concept to me. Despite having only worked in the non-profit sector, money is the driving force that dominates focus in all areas of the American professional culture. How to lose less of it and gain more of it is of constant concern.
Even in my other academic projects, I have never worked without an ultimate goal. The PhD candidate I worked as a research assistant for was focused on completing his dissertation and had a very specific process in mind. My own Digital Atlas Internship, although not graded like a normal course, had a set deadline of the end of the semester and clear outlines for what I was expected to produce, although the method was mine to determine. Although the current strategy of working freely is comfortable as a research assistant and allows me to pursue my own interests and strengths within the project, I do not know if I could guide a team this way on my own project. I am driven by the pursuit of success in whatever form in may take, and I would not know how to guide a team forward without a finish line, regardless of how far it may be. I will take the lessons of this experience back home with me, but I have not abandoned my American ideals and notions of success and how to reach it.