it's all been done

This is my lament. I am posting it in the hopes that some of my fellow grad students can commiserate.

Do you ever get the feeling that, for every new topic in which you develop interests, you later find that it’s all been done by someone else?

It’s happened to me at least twice in the recent past. First, I got really interested in Aristotelian virtue-based character education.Surprise! It’s been done, in book form no less. Aristotle, Emotions, and Education. And, from the looks of it, it’s been done well, even.

Then, I became interested in whether home schooling is consistent with or contrary to feminism, which I thought would be a new issue on the radar. Ta-da! An article by Wendy McElroy, one of my favorite feminists, in a publication by the reputable Foundation for Economic Education. She beat me to it by 7 years. And she is so prolific, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more where that came from.

Of course, it’s only one book and one article, but I really liked the thought of exploring totally uncharted academic territory. When this happens, you can either:

  1. Try to catch up on all the relevant literature and respond to it before you write something original.
  2. Pretend you don’t know about it, and proceed in ignorance.
  3. Some combination of 1 & 2.

But, the more I try to catch up, the more morale I lose, and the more I feel like I could spend a lifetime just reading other people’s work without ever stopping to produce my own.

Thoughts or advice, anyone?


  • (got here from your fb update) If you read the latest top books and top journals, then if you get an idea that is connected to the reading, then it is likely that it will be cited by the author. If it is not, then it might be new. So basically, you *have* to read the newest stuff.

  • That seems like good advice. Although of course one needs to read the seminal works in one’s area, too. Then I guess the stuff in between can be disregarded to some extent unless it keeps getting cited by the newest stuff.

  • Kristie F. wrote:

    i’m not sure what year of grad school you’re in, and i’m not sure how the domain of philosophy works compared to science…

    but a wise saying i once heard is that when you’re just getting started in your field, you first come up with all the ideas that are the “seminal” ideas/experiments or early replications/extensions, then as you learn more directly from your professors & advisors who are mentoring you, you get to the stage of thinking of ideas that are only 10 years old… then when you’re really becoming an expert, you’re thinking of original stuff.

    for the lucky few that surpass the “expert” stage, you get to think of the “revolutionary” ideas. i think i’m finally becoming an expert, and i’ve definitely felt the transition in terms of my thinking… beginning to doubt i’ll ever get close to “revolutionary.”

    good luck and hang in there!!! :-)

  • Kristie F. wrote:

    sorry, one more thing. there’s no way around being overwhelmed with literature, and that will never change. you just have to get over it. there’s a reason why grad school is supposed to be a challenge, only accomplished by the ‘elite’, right?

    and talking as much as you can with other people in the field is a good way to help ease the burden a bit–everyone’s read a slightly different set of things, so you get a good “big picture” when you hear a lot of different perspectives. that’s why research conferences rock.

  • thanks so much for the helpful thoughts & encouragement, Kristie!!

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