Sunday, February 25, 2007

Industry Conference followups, Part III

Meredith Binowitz is an industry consultant, running her own firm. Her background is in [Field 2] rather than engineering or computer science, like most of the field. I spoke with her about my research interests, and about her career path, getting from academia to where she is today.
Dear Meredith,
It was great to meet you, and get a chance to talk about so many things. Thanks again for your generosity with your time and energy. I found the event truly inspiring, and am eager to move ahead in this direction with my career. I expect your comments and suggestions will prove significant to me. Attached is a copy of my resume. I expect to be in [her area] in July. If I get the chance, and you have the time, I'd love to stop in on you and catch up. In any case, we'll be in touch.

I enjoyed meeting you and talking with you. I'm glad the conference has moved you forward. I look forward to hearing how things proceed - whether it is in person in July or by email. By the way, would you mind it if I sent your resume to an [Applied Research Field] recruiter that I know?

Uh... no brainer there; I replied that I'd be delighted.

Industry Conference followups, Part II

Dear Mauricio,

It was nice meeting you at [Industry Conference West]. To refresh your memory, we stood in front of the registration desk for a while shooting the breeze with Frank Mayer. Attached is a copy of my resume. I hope to see you again, perhaps in New York in August.

Hi Articulate,

Yes, I remember meeting you!!!
Please refresh my memory some more, what was it that I was supposed to do with your resume? Would you like me to look around at [Company]? Anything in particular you are interested in?

Mauricio Huppman
Global Sales Manager, [Company]
Hi Mauricio,

Certainly if there is an appropriate position for me at [Company] I would be interested. I won't hold you to finding one though. My primary field of interest at the moment is [rather full details]. I am recently making the shift from an academic focused career toward the commercial field of [Applied Research]. I was inspired by the conference, and am looking for a niche to enter the field. If you have any ideas or suggestions, can think of anyone to introduce me to, or whom I should contact, please let me know.

In any case, it was a treat to meet you, and I look forward to seeing you again.


Well, I tend to think that [Company] has the best [relevant product] around. That's what they tell us in sales anyway ;-)

I forwarded your resume to a few folks - Our chief scientist (the closest thing to having a CTO), manager of our [relevant product] lab in the UK and a manager I know well in the services group.

Check out [URL]. Local consulting company with worldwide customer engagements. They are well connected in the industry and with customers. They can help you understand, among other things, if your skills are directly applicable as a professional service directly with customers. If yes, they are the place to go to for that. If you are interested I can provide introductions to their principals - I know them all.


Industry Conference followups, Part I

The floodgates are open. There are so many emails going back and forth, perhaps it's easiest if I continue in that vein for a while. Yesterday, I sent off about a dozen followup contacts (desperately seeking to get back to everyone I met before I head overseas), many with copies of my resume, some simply to say "nice to meet you," others with much greater detail.

Among the most important contacts was Frank Mayer, who was my entry point to the event, an old hand in the industry, President of the principal industry professional association (which helped sponsor the event), a consummate schmoozer, and a wonderful and willing partner in my crime of introductions:

I just want to thank you for your drive, enthusiasm, assistance, and patience with my testing the waters at [Industry Conference West]. It was an inspirational event for me, and I suspect a pivotal one for my career. I stand now fully convinced that this is the direction I wish to head. Your generosity of spirit was quite a gift to me, and for that I thank you.

Looking forward to many more interactions in the future. Hopefully, I'll have as much to offer you then, as you were kind enough to offer me these past few weeks.

FYI, I attach a copy of my resume. Do stay in touch. I'll be sure to let you know how things progress for me.

Yours enthusiastically,
I confess "fully convinced" is a bit of hyperbole. Fake it 'til you make it, in a sense. But I am enthusiastic and excited about the prospects. The embers are glowing, but will they ignite the bonfire, only time will tell.

It was a delight to meet you, and I'm really glad you decided to invest in the trip to attend the conference. Even though you didn't mange to walk away with a job offer in your pocket, you've broken the ice on numerous fronts and I suspect it's only a matter of time -- a short amount of time -- until one of these turns into an opportunity for you. You made a lasting, positive impression on many folks, certainly me among them!

I look forward to staying in touch -- my business brings me out to [Rocket City area] periodically, and hopefully yours will bring you to the [Industry Conference East] in NYC in August. In 5 years I expect to be in the audience watching YOU at the podium, commenting to the person next to me, 'hey, I knew this dude when he was just struggling and out-of-work, and now look at him!'

Warmest regards,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A bit of the past?

This from last Tuesday, before the [Industry Conference] began:
Hi Jon,

It's been a while. Tasse Plein tells me you had a nice visit to [Big East Private] a little while back. I just wanted to touch base with you, let you know what I'm up to, and solicit any advice you might have to offer. It's been a long couple years since finishing up my dissertation. Quite a frustrating time to be honest, looking for a faculty post. With the retraction of the recent [true subfield] posting at [Lakeview U.] (it's been reposted as an old-line [subfield 2] post), I hear the death knoll for academic [true subfield] in the States. So, I'm branching out as I can.

I'm looking beyond academia as well, thinking that two years is long enough to put all my eggs in that basket. Recently, I've taken a strong interest in applied research applications, in particular [details], which engages my [Field 1/Field 2] focus. I'm heading to [Industry Conference] in a few hours. I've got some meetings set up with different folks, including the CTO & Strategist for [Applied Research Field] at [Corporate Giant]. I'm also going to meet with Larry Strope at [Research Center] at [Big Western Private] which last I heard was still considering my candidacy for their open post. Hopefully something will come of it all.

The biggest frustration for me lately is simply that I spend more time and energy applying for jobs than I do engaging in the research that motivates me. In any case, I know you followed a non-traditional path to where you are, and thought I'd see if you had any words of wisdom to share with me. You seem to have landed on your feet.

I hope you are well, and thriving at [Top Notch Canadian]. Let me know how things are going. And... congratulations on the success of your book.
Two little notes: Jon Levitz was a visiting scholar at [Big West Private] in the [Research Center] during the four years after finishing his PhD. His recent book, last I checked, was somehwere below 300 in Amazon sales rankings, quite a success by any standard, which will become more significant as you read on.
Hi, Articulate.

It is a tough job market and I sympathize, but I would suggest you not give up too soon. I spent four years looking for a job after I got my Ph.D. I applied to 150 jobs, and was only offered two interviews. One of those was [current job]. For the last two years of the four that I was job-hunting, I didn't even have a job. I earned only $8,000 a year those two years doing odd jobs. Something ought to turn up sooner or later.


Thanks for this. Sometimes it is so isolating being here "on the market" with little to hang on to, and much despair. It's good to know others, whom I admire, have found themselves in similar straits, and survived another day to tell about it.

Perhaps I'll see you at [upcoming SII conference], if not sooner. It'd be great to sit down over a beer or coffee and catch up.


It is difficult to fathom why someone so capable as Jon could be left to wallow jobless four years after completing the PhD. I mentioned Jon to Larry Strope in the afternoon on Thursday. Larry's eyes widened at the thought of applying for 150 academic jobs before landing a faculty post. I have applied for over 100. Makes you wonder...

So different

I am finding a difficult time articulating all my thoughts and feelings these days. Each night of the [Industry Conference] I returned to my hotel room, booted up the laptop, and thought about writing. But I just couldn't. I was at a loss to really fathom my own feelings. I was like those cartoon characters, hit on the head, changing colors, plaid to stripes, dots and patterns.

And now, I wish to tell you all that has taken place, mostly inside of me. Yet, I hesitate to begin, for the floodgates may be swamped, the levies may break.

Yet, through it all, I realize that I remain. I... am... still. In brief, I hold 20 business cards in my hands, booty of the socials. I have page after page of notes, and ideas, questions, and answers. Page after page is filled as well with names and emails to contact.

I learned a lot this week, about my hopes and fears, about my own assumptions and desires. Hard, hard stuff. But exciting, really fucking exciting. I am changed, at least changed from what I have been these past few years.

Paul keeps asking me: what do you need to let go of? He has been dissatisfied with my earlier response: the past. Perhaps, to him, that seems a cop-out, too brief an answer. But I know that it is the pith. Sometimes, we need not elaborate. Occam's Razor, simplicity itself. The past, in so many ways. I haven't spoken to him since last Tuesday either, not a word, not an email.

I am still sorting and sifting. I leave for Europe on Monday. I will over the next few days attempt to divulge different aspects of my experience, my thinking, my planning. I hope I will have some access while abroad, but I can't promise.

One thing I realized this week, regained really, is my passion, my enthusiasm, my excitement. I have had trouble these past few days catching my breath. I have had the sense of being on the edge, the cusp, standing at the edge of a mountain, thin, cool air filling my lungs, as I gasp for the exquisiteness of the scenery before me.

I think of Alexander Hamilton, who, it was said changed the course of his life, through a single letter that he wrote; a letter filled with wonder and amazement at the force and grace of nature, observed in the gale and rain of a storm in his native West Indies. The letter was read by a couple businessmen, who were inspired by the passion of the fatherless youth (not exactly fatherless, but raised in his father's absence--indeed the letter I believe was written to his father) to sponsor his passage to America.

I have remembered that passion lies at my heart, that I thrill at the feeling, I light at the slightest graze of the flint, it is for me sustenance enough. I have not felt this passion for so long, being swallowed up in self-pity, in disgust, in resentment, stifled by the worst of academia, rather than liberated by its best. I have not wasted these past seven years. But it has taken me long wandering in the woods to find the path that lies before me. I still know not where it leads, but the path beckons my step, growing ever more clear as the fog in my eyes begins to lift.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Embarking on a Journey

I've got a coaching at 10:00. I'll piddle around my office for a couple hours, then head home for lunch. I'll head to the airport around 3:00 or so, then fly to [Industry Conference] this evening. Tomorrow the event begins in the morning. I've got a half hour meeting in the afternoon with this big shot in the field I'm hoping to enter. On Thursday, I head to [Big Western Private] for a coffee meeting with Larry Strope. Hopefully I'll have more meetings and informals with people at [Industry Conference], and hopefully I'll learn a great deal more about just what sorts of work is going on, where my research might fit in, what prospects and opportunities there might be for me.

I fly home on Friday, then off to Europe for 5 days for a [Field 2] conference next Monday. Busy busy. I'm enjoying the work. I'm hoping hoping hoping that I can find a way to just do this work. I've spent so much time and energy simply applying for jobs. That's the real shame. I've spent more of myself on looking for work and less on doing the work I wish to do.

Things are happening now, though. Things are changing. The Rocket Scientist and I are beginning to steer again, beginning to dream together again. She's all over the place with figuring out what she wants. But that's good. Upheaval. One moment she thinks she just wants to stay home with the boys for a few years. Then she wonders. It's time for her to start dreaming again too, to start designing her own life, our lives together.

Wish me luck with all this traveling. I should be able to check in a bit on the blog at least this week. I don't know about Europe.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In honor of Chinese new year

...and because there had been an off-blog request for a new articulate recipe:

Chicken with bok choy (serves 4)

  • 6-8 heads of baby bok choy
    • Substitute with spinach if you are deprived of fresh bok choy.
  • one hot red chili pepper
  • 5 cloves of fresh garlic
  • dark soy sauce (1-2 tbs)
  • white wine (1-2 tbs)
  • mushrooms (about 1 cup)
  • sliced water chestnuts (one can)
  • one large chicken breast (about 2/3 lb.)
  • vegetable oil (2 tbs.)

Thinly slice garlic, red chili, onion, and chicken. Set aside each in its own prep bowl. Cut off bottoms of bok choy, rinse, drain. Steam bok choy for 3-5 minutes, set aside. Heat oil in wok over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add onions. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, then add garlic. Stir. Cook 2-3 more minutes, then add chili. Add chicken after 1-2 minutes. Turn up heat to high. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is mostly down (no more pink). Turn down heat to medium high. Add mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Stir. Add soy sauce and wine to taste, stirring. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add bok choy, and toss or stir until all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Ooooh Yum!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sometimes I get the feeling...

Our au pair often muses that I have chosen a field in which there are no jobs to be had, that I have self-selected myself out of a career. Nonsense, I'd like to say. I have merely chosen to follow a path that is true to myself. Yes, it is a difficult one. Perhaps I like the challenge. But mostly, we make choices at each juncture, seek to remedy the false steps of the last, and look toward the next.

I sent a brief "checking in" note a couple days ago to Joe Krowicki at [Lake View U.] As you may recall, the position that had looked promising for me was transformed by their dean into something much less appealing (to both me and him):
Hi Joe,

I just thought I'd drop you a line to let you know what I'm up to. I have very much enjoyed our interactions over the past few years, and value your friendship. While I have not yet given up all hope for landing a faculty post, I've grown weary of the wait. About a month ago, I began working with a career coach, to give my career a jumpstart. I've been looking into some of the research going on in [practical application], in particular [some details]. I'll be attending an industry conference [Name & Location] next week, where I'll be meeting with [Corporate Giant] CTO & Strategist for [Applied Research field], among other people. Who knows if this new path will prove more fruitful than my academic job search. But I'm tired of waiting for something to happen in that vein.

I hope you are well, and surviving the task of hiring new colleagues at [Lake View U.]. Let me know how things are going on your end.

Best regards,
Here was Joe's reply:

Thanks for the update. The [Corporate Giant] connection sounds very exciting, and I hope you'll let me know what that conference was like. Here in the frozen heartland we are almost halfway done with the "regular-old-theory" search. The last person comes through in a couple weeks. I go off to Europe a week later, mostly to do some archival digging, but also to give two lectures and to participate in a job search (me as a candidate) in [country].

So, lots happening. Please stay in touch,
Sometimes I get the feeling that my au pair may just be right, at least when it comes to academia. Bear in mind, [Lake View U.] was perhaps the last best bastion of [true subdiscipline] in the U.S. Because it is an interdisciplinary field, there is in fact greater activity involving it in other fields than [Field 1]. But within [Field 1] there were essentially three programs in The States. The first school has one remaining faculty member who is well-established in [true subdiscipline]. A second school which was developing a PhD program in it, lost the senior faculty member who was behind it to another school, where his "distinguished" endowed post permits him to concentrate on his own research, but has not prompted him to establish a new graduate program. The last of these three was [Lake View U.] where the two remaining faculty in [true subdiscipline] may soon be dropping to one, with no indication of any desire to raise that number. [SIGH].

As Joe put it: "not yet dead... but on life support."

Friday, February 16, 2007

What I need to hear

This, from a friend of mine, PhD in Psychology, whom I knew in grad school, and who happens to be currently a post-doc in cognitive neuroscience in the Rocket City area:
Hi Articulate,

I wish you best of luck at the conferences! I'm sure you'll find a good path for you. I'm impressed with your enthusiasm and passion for the fields that you are interested in. That's one of the things I'd love to talk to you about when next we meet, because I could use some inspiration from you to pursue the direction that I'm most interested in despite the pull into other directions.

The other thing I wanted to tell you is that if you don't get a post doc doing brain imaging or what not, that doesn't mean you won't be able to incorporate neuroscience in your future inquiries, and such a post doc may not be the best training for you. Mainly because in a post doc like that, much of your time will be consumed with working out the technical aspects (constant programming, figuring out what to do with noisy signals, etc), but a few years will still not make you an expert (without the computational background, which really math and engineering kinds have - I don't even have enough of it). So eventually when you are leading projects that pursue the research questions you are excited about, I think you could hire people with technical backgrounds, who will be happy to take your ideas and work out the technical details. Well, just a thought.

That's the conclusion I've been coming to myself. But it's really good to have it validated by someone in a position to know, someone I admire and respect, who knows both my work and interests, and that side of the table as well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

That's what I need to tell them

During yesterday's coaching (it had been rescheduled from Monday), Paul and I set out on a task to list some milestones, measures really for what it is I'm seeking.
  • To own a house in a "college town".
    • I mean "college town" to connote a small city with culture and an intellectual climate.
  • To take the pressure off the Rocket Scientist to be the provider.
    • She'd very much like the ability to work part-time, or take time off on occasion, like say 6 months to have a third child.
  • Satisfaction & Meaning in my work.
    • I described this, like I did here, as being able to hold a dinner party and excitedly discuss my work. That's a concrete measure for me.
  • Consistently good energy with my boys.
    • Perhaps this is unrealistic when we're talking about raising boys 2 & 4 (a bit of frustration is par for the course), but I wish to have a better hold on myself that the little things, no matter how annoying, are easier for me to let go of.
  • Financial and emotional means to travel and vacation without guilt, without worries.
  • A garden and a gourmet kitchen.
Paul then asked: Okay then, say 18 months down the road, you've got all these things. Are you done? Are you happy?

Yes! I think in some ways it really is that simple. No, I won't be finished. I won't stop living. I thought about one of the questions on the initial survey Paul gave me before our coaching began:

What accomplishments or measurable events must occur during your lifetime so that you will consider your life to have been satisfying and well-lived; a life of few or no regrets?

At the time, I responded in part:
What measurable events or accomplishments you ask. I'm not sure I wish to think about it in that way. Let's say they were: to be happily married, and have children, to obtain a PhD, to own a house, tend a garden, write some poetry, cook divinely... what good would having those tangible goals do me? I'm married, have children, a PhD, a garden, I cook well... we sold our house a couple years ago, but we could buy one again, when the time and market seem right. It might be easy enough to say I have all that I truly need, what more could I ask for? Or what if I said I wished to win a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer. Either the goal would remain unobtained, or I'd be in crisis once it was earned. Those measurable events are not what it's about for me.

The process, that's important. Nearly every married couple is happy (for a time). The trick is to remain so. Being a parent is more than having children. It's a lifelong process, perhaps more than that, as I realize my father is still with me as I go on living. It's that process: To never cease learning. To never cease discovering new ideas, and ways to interact with people. To never cease caring about the welfare of the world. To never cease touching those around me. To never forget to laugh, and smile. To appreciate those around me, even for the smallest things.
But happiness, arrival. Paul chided me a bit for wanting an end-point. He suggested these milestones along the way could help to alleviate that longing.

In reality, I'm not looking for an end; I'm just seeking some waystations, to get off the bus and look around, breathe the air, smile at the breeze billowing the leaves on the trees, hike a mountain pass, smell a flower, then climb back aboard and head on.

We talked a bit about my upcoming meetings at [Industry conference] and my apprehensions, worrying about whether I'd be able to land a job in this field, and what sort of impression I might make on those I meet with. He said, look at that list of six things. That's what you need them to know: that you seek a job where you can own a home in a "college town," where you can take the pressure off Rocket to be provider, where you can be excited about your work, where you can be a good father, take guilt-free vacations, indulge in gourmet cooking with fresh produce from your garden.

I laughed. How could I tell a perfect stranger that? Of course... he's right. Those are the things that are important to me. I've got to get to the point where I can be fully myself, without apologies for my real, human objectives, and find a place where my colleagues, real and human themselves, can appreciate such humanity.

Remark about Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque (né Erich Paul Remark) was the author of various mostly autobiographically-based novels, most famously Im Westen nichts neues [All Quiet on the Western Front] about the experiences and disillusionment of a young German soldier on the front during WWI. It is seen even today as one of the strongest anti-war statements. The novel became an overnight sensation in the late 1920s when it was first published. It sold millions of copies in several languages within the first year or so, ensuring Remarque's financial well-being. It also became a symbol in Germany of antithesis to Aryan strength, courage, and domination. May 10, 1933, it was among the books sacrificed to the pyre by gleeful, demonic partisans of Nazism.

I've been reading Hilton Tims' biography of Remarque. Since I gave up taking work to bed, I've preferred biographies, those brief encapsulations of a lifetime, snapshots of an individual's dalliance and passing on the earth. Remarque achieved great success early. He continued to write, lived in exile in Switzerland, then the U.S. during and after WWII. One of his sisters was executed in Germany for "defeatist thinking". He was lovers with Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and others among the glamorous Hollywood set. A tumultuous life.

What strikes me most is a comment (cited by Tims) in Remarque's diary late in his life, after having suffered the first of several strokes. He wrote that his life was a failure; so many opportunities, only a few taken; I have lived without living! Remarkable really. And sad. Very sad. Who knows: perhaps these were the words, the thoughts, of someone in passing, depressed by the debilitation of age, not the lasting impressions of the man. But... regret, deep, abiding regret.

I don't wish to reach my decline with such regret and sadness.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Academic mooch

Well, not really. I suppose those who have positions mostly have funding for attending conferences at which they will be delegates. This morning, I sent off two emails to the organizers of the two upcoming conferences in May & June, at which I've had papers accepted, and which I would be delighted to attend, but which might likely set us back quite a bit, perhaps more than we'd be willing to shell out. I had received an email from the organizers of the May conference a few days ago indicating that one of the society sponsors was offering a "bursary" to student, retired, and unwaged participants, and would I be eligible and interested in receiving such support. Uh... yes!

The second email was to the organizers of the June conference, in response to their official notice the committee has made their final decisions and set the conference schedule and would you please confirm your attendance by the end of February. As you may recall, I had been invited to participate in that conference prior to the announcement of their call for papers. The organizer had enthusiastically received my abstract submission. Finally, he indicated his hope to include me as part of a "keynote panel" and that he was seeking funds to support my attendance and participation.

I suppose if I were a more established scholar, I might expect conferences to invite me, and to pay my way. But it's not really something I am accustomed to.

Upheaval, part two

I'm feeling a bit odd these days. It's like I've planned a big trip, but I'm still tying up loose ends, haven't started packing. Have you ever had a big trip coming up, but it's still a while off? The excitement grips you immediately once the decision is made; but then the time elapses, other things distract you, and somehow the big trip becomes just another thing you expect to take place.

I'm not dismissing the changes that have been going on my career thinking. I'm just... nervous, uncertain... and mostly, just waiting. I fly to [Industry Conference] next Tuesday night, returning on Friday night. I fly to Europe for a [Field 2] conference that Monday following.

Yesterday I went to the campus of a local community college. I've been thinking of enrolling in a Statistics class and a C++ programming class. Little cogs. Both require prerequisites, which I'm assuming I could get waived, but that requires a face to face meeting with the Dean of Counseling, and on... Part of the "and on" is that I'll be gone the first two weeks of the term, due to my conference trips. Nonetheless, I purchased the textbooks from their bookstore, figuring: 1) I could return them; 2) I could work through them on my own. This latter option is something I have often contemplated, but never done. I have several textbooks on my shelves whose content I'd like to have mastered, but never found the time or motivation to work through. What would make this different? Well, for one the content of these texts is not simply something I'd like to know something about, but perhaps something that will help me get a job I'd be happy with. We'll see.

I'm also feeling a bit of the weight of my financial burden to the family. To add to this sense, I misplaced my wedding band over the weekend. I take my rings off (I've got a silver "engagement ring" on my right hand, designed and commissioned, as a matching set, by the Rocket Scientist and me before we were married) on very rare occasions. The cause this time was that I was making bagels for our out-of-town guests. (My wife's aunts and paternal grandmother flew in for a weekend visit, which was nice). I put them in my pocket, where I normally keep my keys, but forgot they were there.

The wedding ring must have dropped one time when I took out my keys... but it's not shown up at home or my office. I even called some pawn shops, thinking if someone found it, they might have hawked it. No luck so far. I emailed the shop where we bought the rings a decade ago, and they have a record of the style number, and the price is surprisingly about the same as it was then. I'll wait another week or so to see if it shows up. It's just another expense. One after the other.

We're doing alright, but we've begun tapping our non-retirement savings. The wedding ring. The computer. The office. The coaching. The trips to conferences, and registration fees. It's all an investment, right? But when will it end?

Never trust an estimate

Friday evening the adapter for my laptop died. It just stopped working. I had noticed an odd behavior for a day or two before, that the cable was losing connection or had a short, such that if I wiggled the wire a bit, the power would connect again. I could tell because my monitor is a bit dimmer when running on battery.

Saturday morning, I called Dell to order a replacement. I'll upgrade you to next business day shipping at no cost, which will get it there... as soon as... on Monday. [SIGH] Monday came... monday went. Dell and DHL continued to show the estimated deliver date as 2/12. After several calls which couldn't confirm the package's location, nor it's actual scheduled delivery, they assured me it would be put on priority and they'd get it to me as soon as possible Tuesday morning. The website tracking updated to "by 3:00 pm" even though the estimated date remained 2/12. It finally arrived yesterday around 4:30pm.

What a relief! I had access to our home desktop, thus giving me internet access to my email. But do you realize how much of my life is kept on files on my laptop? I don't really like that. I think I'll get an external hard drive to back up both the laptop and the desktop. That should help.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Shifting Gears

Last week, I signed up for email alerts from [Corporate Giant] regarding job postings in [Applied Research Field]. Friday, I got a posting for a Research Staff position in Appleton Hills. I wondered whether this posting had anything to do with my flurry of emails to them this past week. Probably not, but it's nice to think of myself having some impact on the field. I say probably not, because they're looking for someone with requisite programming skills, which I think was clear I don't have. But the fact that there is a newly advertised position, doing seemingly what I wish to be doing, which specifies particular skills, gives me some focus. Okay, so now I've begun a want list of skills to acquire. This is exactly what I want!

One of the biggest frustrations in the academic job search is the sense that there is no checklist to follow, no specifics. Everyone who has looked at my CV says it's impressive, that there's really nothing missing (except substantial recent teaching experience). And yet, two+ years of applying, over 100 applications sent, a handful of interviews, and nothing; not only no job, but virtually no feedback. What's missing? What do I need? Okay, teaching fine... I keep looking for adjunct work. But what?

So now... as I begin to openly focus more on the research, possibly moving away from academia toward applied research, it's good to have a sense of specifics. I need to learn more about statistics, good. I need to acquire more recent knowledge of programming and coding, good. I can do that. Learning? Come on now! This is what I'm made for. I've got the questions, the problems. I've got the mind to attack them, to turn them over, to look at them in unusual ways, to break them down, to combine them. That's what you can't teach. Now... now, I can begin to see the particular tools others may expect me to use in the process. Okay.

I begin to get excited about the prospects. I wish to focus my efforts not on getting a job at the moment, but on understanding the field, what it's done, what it's doing, what remains. I've got my sense that de Waal is right, and also that I represent a different set of glasses, a different configuration of lenses through which to filter these problems. Some in [applied research field] may think that all they need are electrical engineers and computer scientists, but they're wrong. If they were right, the problems would have all been solved by now. I am confident that I can contribute to this field of research. No doubt. The trick is then to find the place, and the means to convince them it's worth taking a chance on me. It's the work that I need to think about, not the job.

I wrote to Larry Strope at [Big West Private University]:
Hi Larry,
I'm going to be flying to your area to attend [Industry conference] in a couple weeks. If you're around and could spare time for lunch or coffee, I'd be pleased for the opportunity. I don't know where things stand with [Research Center] search, but I'll do whatever I can to avoid any conflicts of interest for you.
Sure thing. The 22nd at noon for some coffee? We remain frustratingly obscure about searches at the present stage, sorry.
On Friday, I also wrote a follow up to the head honcho in [Applied Research Area] at [Corporate Giant], whom I had emailed last Monday as my first contact to the field, but who had not yet responded.
Dear Danesh,
Your name came up again, as someone to contact, this time in conversation with Frank Mayer. I'm planning to be at [Industry conference] in a couple weeks. If you will be in attendance, I'd be pleased for the chance to meet you and talk a little bit.
I will be attending [Industry Conference].
Would you please make sure that Articulate and I have a 30 min meeting.

Danesh Nikahang

[Applied research field] CTO & Strategist
[Corporate Giant] Research

Listen, and talk. I've got some meetings now. I think February will prove to be a good month.

Friday, February 09, 2007

If it isn't one thing...

Ah, the memory of Gilda Radner's nebbish Roseanna Roseannadanna. If it isn't one thing, it's another.

Alright, up for a few days, coasting on a new found charge. I reflected earlier about some of the issues that are coming up. I sent an email earlier today to one of the contacts Frank pointed me to. Almost immediately, I got a reply.
Hi Articulate,

Susan Parmenitz told me you'd probably be in touch.
I'd be happy to talk.
Phil is a manager in the field I'm looking at, for a rather major player, another company name you'd all recognize. [It is getting more and more difficult to discuss these things without referring to specifics about the research, or becoming so vague as to be obfuscating, but I'll try. Bear with me.] Only... I don't know any Susan Parmenitz. Wow, I thought, I guess my name is making the rounds. Then, of course, I realized she must be one of Frank's contacts, and she told Phil she'd passed along his name and contact info, so to expect my call.

Okay, all fine and good. We talked. I think it was about 25 minutes (longer than I spoke with Frank mind you). But not quite as much rapport. Something was off. I realized later that he seemed to be mostly interested in telling me about him, about what he'd done. Am I like that?, I wondered.

I thought of BrightStar's recent contemplations. I had a similar experience to hers, but much more recently. My first term as a doctoral student, the professor who was teaching the requisite "Bibliography and Research Techniques" class pulled my adviser aside, which he in turn did to me. "She thinks you're cocky. I mean, that's okay. Cocky is good. I like cocky... but maybe you need to tone it down a bit, be aware of it." To be honest, I felt silly sitting through a class that mostly entailed a bunch of make work requiring hours of looking through encyclopedias at the library, and noting down page numbers and the like. Bear in mind, this is the same class in which I cranked out a 55-page annotated bibliography, when she was expecting 10. In the end, I think she appreciated me. But, I am cocky.

But cocky and arrogant are different. I'm confident, enthusiastic. I get excited over ideas. But this Phil, he seemed to not get too excited. Except, he kept talking about himself. Not the ideas so much, as himself. I was invited by [such and such] department at [big name school] to become a professor there, but I turned it down. Blah blah blah. You know [particular methodology]? Uh, yeah, sure. I was first author on that paper.

Now, that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything, or that everything he said was bunkum. It wasn't, even the stuff I didn't particularly want to hear. But, I also learned that while he may be an important person to know, and he did invite me to keep in touch with him, I don't expect him to be a strong advocate for me. For one thing, he seemed to be pushing me to get a post-doc, but it seemed more of a brush-off. He even off-handedly suggested I might wish to look at a certain program at a big name school, which he went on to disparage: They're really good about getting funding to do work on things they don't really understand, then calling it progress. Uh, great, thanks for the suggestion.

But most importantly, I think, I left the call considering it simply more data points, like Paul keeps recommending. The point is, I'm committed to success. While I'm not opposed to doing a post-doc or getting another degree somewhere, I am rather inclined to get a job which supports me along the way. The last thing I wish to do is put myself through the meat grinder again, doing something to bide my time before I need to start looking for something more permanent. My first choice is to get hired somewhere, somewhere they'd be thrilled to have me, which will support me and sustain me as I go about acquiring whatever additional skills might be useful. But, you know, I've got a lot to offer now, off the shelf, I'm ready. I've got to keep reminding myself of that.

Because... if it's not one thing, it's another. Maybe Phil thinks I lack programming experience. Someone else will say statistics. That's alright I don't know everything, I can't. Nobody does. But, I do know what I know, and that's something. I've got to put the Phils back on the shelf for another time, pull a few of the Franks down, and keep on schmoozing.


That's the word: upheaval

A year ago, I had a conversation with Tasse Plein, in which he spoke of my self-sufficiency and confidence, and about what one needs to do to get ahead in academia. I wrote about it here and here. I realized something yesterday about how that conversation affected me. The idea that I needed to fit into the pecking order, that I needed to act in accord with my status (as an unemployed junior academic), that I needed to convince others that I needed them, that I was dependent upon them for letters, for contacts, that this was the path to a job, seems to have cowered me. I mentioned this in an email yesterday to my coach Paul. I wrote:
Tasse Plein had said something to me a while back that comes up now as I seek mentors, gurus, friends, and contacts. He said that he always saw me as someone who didn't need a lot of hand-holding, that I would do just fine on my own, but that in academia we need others, we need their letters and recommendations. He suggested that I might need to make it clear to him and others that I really did need them. Though it was clearly not his intention, I think I felt put down a bit by it, not insulted really, just cowered. He said that in academia people expect you to behave according to your status, and my status (like it or not) was in need of the largess of others.
Paul's response was a bit of a shock:
Oh my! Now, while I'll chalk up his dictat as a bit hasty, it makes me wonder. Look, this is one aspect of Tasse and my relationship to him. In some ways he's been a good mentor and friend. Truth be told, in other ways he's not been. I've written about silence, and the lack of feedback. I know that is what he has given me at times. I've accepted it because he is human, and because his life is understandably not focused solely on my success.

I also understand Paul's point: at the moment, I'm stuck. The point of our interactions, the motivation behind these coachings, is to get me unstuck. What Paul pointed out in our initial conversation was that I need to surround myself with people who will help me succeed, and avoid those who will bring me down. In that light, Tasse is a member of my old set.

Of course, what I know is that I am responsible for how I take people and their comments. Sure, I should avoid the cycles that bring me down. But... I learned a while ago that the best way to deal with people is to have clear expectations of them. I recall a friend of mine, perhaps my best friend during my Master's program. We were both studying the same thing. But we were different, very different. He was conservative in politics and religion, and I... well, NOT! And yet, I learned that as long as I had a clear understanding of what I expected of our friendship, there really was a great deal we could both gain by it.

That said, I'm not sure I'm ready (or willing) to cut all ties to Tasse Plein. He has been a mentor at times (though arguably an ineffective one). But what's more, he is also a friend. I'd like to get past my present failed state, reach the point where I am successful and satisfied in my career, enough to approach Tasse and others merely as a friend, not as a dependent. Perhaps what I need most of all is to regain my independence. It's not Tasse who is the problem, but the relationship in my mind that has developed.

Industry conference


Great to talk with you, really. Attached is my CV, and a brief description of my [Longitudinal Project]. Also, feel free to look over my personal research website [URL]. My entire dissertation is posted there in pdf, including about 75 examples
of [aspect he noted an interest in]. For a briefer (and perhaps better) version of the contents, check out my [Dissertation Distillation] article at [URL]. I'll see what I can do to come to [Industry Conference]. I'd be great to meet you in person.


I agree - it was a pleasure meeting you and I hope to get a chance to meet you face to face at [Industry conference].

I swapped emails with some of my associates to collect names of individuals or organizations interested in [research focus]. You should be able to find contact information for the ones without email addresses using Google. I believe all these individuals or companies are involved with research and development associated with [research focus, with details].

[List of contacts and affiliations, some with emails]

Stay in touch and let me know if you plan to attend [Industry conference] in 2 weeks. I'm confident some of these folks will be there.

Good luck!
I'm going. I booked the flight and hotel this morning. Three days after I get back, I fly to Europe for this [Field 2] conference. Got to get that presentation up to speed. I guess that's next week's focus. I've got everything I need for the analysis. I've got more than half of the work done. I just wanted to include some new material, which is ripe now. Lot's to do, lot's to think about. I just need to get settled.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I jumped!

A little. Testing the air... of course, once you've jumped... the ground is pretty far below. Wish me safe landing, eh?

The other day, I made my coach privy to the back and forth of emails with people at [Corporate Giant], and about my sense of having been there all before. Paul latched on my feelings, hence our half hour "check in" call, at his prompting.

He said,
you know, you want to change [Corporate Giant]. So did Bill Gates. He just didn't do it by getting a job there.


Don't focus on the one thing. This is a fact-finding mission, a science experiment. Gather the data first, then figure out how to interpret it, what to conclude. How many small firms, which are looking for people to think outside the box, have you applied to?

Um... none.



Okay, then. Look your job is to make some contacts, find some mentors, gurus, what have you, some friends, people who like you, and want you to succeed in your field.

Then he sent me an email with the subject take this guy to lunch. I didn't take him literally. In that particular case, lunch would've been, let's say, a bit impractical. But I understood the point. Be bold. Paul called me again this morning, briefly, for a chat. [I must say, he's sure earning his keep.] I was drafting a letter to someone else. We talked about approach a bit, about taking advantage of my strengths. You're great on the phone and in person. Get them talking, charm them, then see from there.
Dear Frank,

I came across your listing for a [job title] at [firm]. I'll be up front, I'm not looking for a position at the moment, nor would I properly qualify for this one. But I'm eager to make contacts in the field of [description of the field]. If you could spare 5 minutes on the phone, I would be grateful for the opportunity to talk with you about the field, and to learn more about what you do. Feel free to call me, or send me a number and a good time to call, and I'll do my best to accommodate your schedule.


Are you in a position to call in the next 30 minutes or so?
Five minutes turned to twenty, at his discretion. I'm fine, I'd be happy to keep chatting. Turns out, he got a PhD from my undergraduate institution in [Interdisciplinary Field] about 30 years ago. Worked as a college professor for some time, then got into this field of applied research about 20 years ago. Mentioned a couple names of people he'd put me in touch with. Said by the way that he has a strong secondary interest in [Field 1]. Nice guy! He urged me to come to the research field industry conference in two weeks about an hour's flight from here. Said he'd be happy to show me around, introduce me to people. Got to figure that one out. It ain't cheap to attend. Maybe I'll get a day pass or something. It sure feels like I've jumped

Á la former students

Okay, this wasn't from a former student, but it's nice nonetheless.
Hi Articulate... I wouldn't be surprised if you don't remember me but probably a good year ago I emailed you mentioning that I was interested in using an idea of yours about [concept] in my master's thesis [details of thesis]. Well, I've finally filed the thing and am sending a copy along to you in case you'd like to see what a [subfield 3er] might do with it. I credit you on p. [#], and use the idea from around p. [#].

Anyway, thanks for the idea! Be well,
Put a smile on my face. Nice to berelevant.

Can't sleep

Just before 4:00am, the Inventor awoke with a cry. This happens several times a week, almost always around 4:00. My wife or I will walk down the hallway to the boys' room, tuck him into his covers, and he's content. It is a gentle reminder of the importance we play in his life, and of the simple gestures that make all the difference. There is something wonderful about seeing my boys asleep in bed, hearing them mumble in that restfulness, giving them a kiss.

This morning, I went. But I couldn't get back to sleep. After about an hour of tossing, I decided to get up, at least for a time.

I turned to my laptop as default. What am I to do, in the middle of the night? I downloaded some articles that are relevant to the new avenue I'm investigating. I found them in fact by following a search that landed someone on my PRW [Personal Research Website]. I skimmed them a bit. But, I'm really too tired to read them. Too tired, and yet sleepless.

This night we had some friends over for dinner. I cooked a turkey breast with mushroom gravy, sautéed zucchini and yellow summer squash, salad with fresh lettuce and sprouts (I grow them myself), and a rice medley. Guests often wonder if we eat like this all the time. Well, yes, we do, mostly. Conversation was pleasant, but too long. They left around 11:00.

One of our guests had asked me how is life: in upheaval was my reply. In upheaval. Too many thoughts to sleep. Yet I'm too exhausted to do much with them, swirling in my head.

My coach, Paul, reiterated yesterday, during a half hour "check in" call: big changes, remember that; I advocate big changes. I feel I am on the verge of them. I feel I'm staring out an open airplane door, ready to jump. I know the parachute is strapped to my back, that it's been tested, that it will be fine. I feel the fear of jumping, the worries, the doubts, and the rush of excitement about doing something uncommon.

Perhaps I'll try to sleep.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A little more like it

Dear Bhaktiva,

I have come across your work regarding the [Research Project] and research in the [Department at Corporate Giant]. I am currently seeking a shift in career from academic to applied research, and am therefore seeking contacts in the field whose work most inspires me. The efforts going on at Appleton Hills [location of their research lab] are of the greatest interest to me in this regard. Any assistance or suggestions you might be able to offer me as I move toward a career in [Applied Research Field] would be most appreciated.

My background is in [Field 1] and [aspect of Field 2]. My PhD dissertation regarded the work of [Historical Figure] involving [aspect of Field 2] from about a century ago. Currently, I am continuing this work in [description of research I'll be presenting in Europe in a few weeks]. I'm also beginning a project called [Longitudinal Project, general overview].

For your perusal, I attach a copy of my current CV, and a brief description of [Longitudinal Project]. Also, feel free to visit my website [URL of PRW]. Again, any advice or suggestions you might offer me would be most welcome. If you know of any appropriate opportunities for someone with my background and interests either at [Corporate Giant] or elsewhere, I would be most grateful for that information.

I thank you,

Thanks for getting in touch with me! I will get back to you as soon as I have had a chance to take a look at your resume (within this week). Perhaps, we can set up a phone call after that as well. I will also circulate your resume within [Corporate Giant] (will copy you on it).

Not holding my breath, mind you. From what I can tell, Bhaktiva works in the same group that Matthew heads. He responded to my follow up inquiry yesterday, even briefer than before, indicating simply that they mostly hire people with an engineering or computer science background. Poo poo! To quote Franz de Waal yet again:
We cannot afford to look through a single pair of glasses; we need lots of different glasses to see reality.

--de Waal (2001), The Ape and the Sushi Master, p. 182
Vision, people. Vision!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I've got a conference presentation in Europe in about three weeks. There are two more conferences I've had papers accepted to, coming up in May and June, though I haven't committed to attending those yet. I have a publisher waiting for fuller chapter summaries for my dissertation-to-book proposal, should I choose to respond. I have faculty job applications out, and perhaps a few more I could work up and send off, if I desire.

The strings that tie me are slack. In a way, the world is open to me. We have no mortgage. We own our vehicles. The only debt we have is what remains of our student loans. We've got enough money invested to pay them off as soon as we like (but our returns beat the interest rate, so we've kept the loans for now).

There is a part of me that wants to sell everything, my books first! A part of me that wants to run to the nearest exit. I don't need any of this. I really don't. That, I know. I just haven't quite gotten to the point where I don't want it. There's the clincher.

But I could, assuming my family is with me, just... go! Buy a boat, and float away. Not a terribly big boat, mind you. We haven't that much money. But... we could run away for a few months, maybe a year. Just disappear in Europe, or Africa, New Zealand, Thailand.

I want... I want a little pleasure. I want to shed this robe of torture that holds me, this hair shirt of my penance, for god-knows-what transgression. Just go!

I want to enter a place of peace, satisfaction, enjoyment. A nice fantasy it is. I look at the posters now adorning my office walls, sailing yachts, sea and sky. I breathe in. Breathe out

I think of the thin volume sitting on my table here, given me by my mother, wishing me all the best. Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh. I read a page or two every now and again.

Let go! Breathe in. Breathe out. Water, ocean, wind, sails. I shudder.

Ah, Shakespeare, help me now!

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's Art and that man's Scope,
With what I most enjoy, contented least,

Yet in these thoughts, myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising,
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate,

For they sweet love remember'd such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

--W. Shakespeare, Sonnet #29
Damn it, my friend, it's always worked before. I'm trying, really, I am. But I am in so much pain right now.

Why can't I get past this shit in which I wallow?

Damn Wind!

Yesterday, I had a coaching session. One comment from Paul:
You're coming off of about two years of nearly constant disappointment. We need to focus on getting Articulate on the right path. Then we can deal with the circumstances surrounding you.
We came to an agreement that I would develop of syllabus-like plan for my life from now until about September. That will be a decision point for us. The Rocket Scientist completes her year of obligation to Rocket Central around that time. I say her obligation since we'd have to pay back the costs of the move if she left sooner. That's not to say she will leave at that point, but it gives us a time-frame for when she could make a decision to move on.

As for me, that period marks the beginning of a new academic year, meaning I'll either have a faculty post, adjuncting work, or nothing. What else can I do that would satisfy my desires, my hopes, my dreams?

I'm becoming more and more interested in this domain of applied research. But it's a stretch for me, a stretch for my background. Damn it, I just want to be able to convince someone somewhere that it's worth giving me a chance. I CAN DO THIS! DO YOU HEAR ME! I'M NOT STUPID! I'VE GOT GOOD IDEAS! COMMITMENT! PLEASE, SOMEBODY LISTEN TO ME!

This morning, I sent off another four inquiry letters to different people involved in this research. Here's the one train that's run so far:
Dear Matthew,

I have come across your work involving the [Research Project], and would very much like to become a part of these efforts, and the broader enterprise involving [specifics of research applications]. I am currently seeking a shift in career from academia to applied research. The work that is being done at [Corporate Research Lab] is of the most exciting nature to me. I am seeking the means to enter the field, and am therefore soliciting advice in this regard. Any suggestions or opportunities you might point me to would be greatly appreciated. For more information about me and my recent activities, I welcome you to visit my website [URL for my PRW].

Attached, please find a copy of my resume. I look forward to hearing from you.

Dear Articulate,

Your qualifications are impressive but they are not a good match for us. Good luck in the future.

Thank You, Matthew, for your quick response.

My question then would be what specific qualifications, knowledge, or skills would I need to acquire in order to become a good match? How might I go about acquiring them? Are there any internship or volunteer opportunities I can pursue now?

Thank you for your time,
I figured that was a better response to his note than "Well, bloody fuck you too! A whole hell of a lot of good that does me. Luck I can do without! What I need is a foot in the door, and at this point, I don't give a damn if that foot gets a little bloody being shoved where it isn't yet welcome." Good thing I'm more diplomatic in my actions than in my thoughts, eh?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Setting the sails to the wind

A couple days ago, I wrote of the winds of change. This morning, I wrote up an "initial contact" email to the director of the corporate research lab I found over the weekend. I did a bit more web research regarding the field and job opportunities. Of course, it's not like I wasn't aware of the technologies. They're being developed, sure. They've been in development for a long time. And frankly, I don't fit quite it would seem, since the areas I'm most interested are not really focused on. And what's more, I'm coming at this from a rather different angle, with markedly different training and background. But then, hey, isn't that the point? That I might have something to contribute that's unique, different.

I sent the email, with my resume, and a description of my [Longitudinal Project] which in my mind has a lot to do with my interest in getting involved with this field of research. This is the real-world practical application of my research. I just hadn't really thought of it as a career path before. But, hey, why not? I mean, my hope is not simply to wallow away in a classroom somewhere, talking about irrelevancies.

I would be quite willing to take even an entry-level position working in this area of research, as long as I could get corporate support for continued training in whatever areas I might need to develop additional skills. From what I can tell, an entry-level corporate job would be comparable in pay and benefits to what I might likely expect in most entry-level assistant professor posts. This may just be a direction I'd prefer to head. Can't quite say yet.

Meantime, I will still be sending out more applications for faculty posts, and inquiries for adjuncting. But the Rocket Scientist and I are coming closer to understanding our hopes and dreams, where we might like to live, what sort of work environments we would ideally seek. A house, some land, a garden, meaningful work that contributes positively to society, appreciation, and little or no commute! We're setting up targets. Now, to develop those archery skills.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


In my original dissertation proposal, I asked the question:
What is the relevance of this work today?
The topic of my dissertation was a mix between the work about a century ago of a particular historical figure and the developments in three intersecting fields (Field 1, Field 2, and Interdisciplinary Field) from that time to today. I was interested in understanding how that figure's activities a century ago (which have mostly gone unacknowledged beyond a very limited scope) reflected on more general issues, how that experience might be compared to our own, and what relevance that work has on our knowledge today, what it might tell us as we move ahead.

By the time I completed my draft proposal, my dissertation chair had moved on to join the faculty at a university on the other side of the country. My advocate was gone, the person who had recruited me to enroll at his institution, who supported and sustained me. I wished to broaden my base of support, and to benefit from understanding them as part of my audience.

I gave the draft proposal to another faculty member in Field 1/Subfield 1 (let's call him Robert Spritzer), who was not on my committee (which included highly unusually for my program members from subfield 1, subfield 2, subfield 3, and Field 2). I asked for his feedback. Spritzer is a confirmed Old Dinosaur. He latched on to that question toward the end of my proposal.
We don't ask that sort of question in subfield 1 studies? What is the relevance of it? Relevance doesn't play into our inquiries.
And there, I suppose, is where I most part company with subfield 1'ers. I do ask those sorts of questions. I wish to. I have little interest in tidbits of knowledge for their own sake (other than to dazzle checkout stewards at the grocery store: Universal Product Code, that's what it stands for. Price Look Up, that's the other one.) Tidbits of knowledge are parlor tricks, not worthy enough in themselves for me to dedicate a life to.

I find myself wondering how to get from my past to my future, leaving behind parlor tricks, seeking relevance.

A dangerous and destructive legacy

So what will we leave behind?

Years ago, a cousin of mine, PhD in Economics, presented the theory that the aim of the neo-cons in Washington was to bankrupt the U.S. government, thus destroying its abilities to support domestic programs, while enriching the military-industrial complex.

Destroyer in Chief yesterday announced his plans to vociferously argue for a shift in priorities for the U.S. budget, austerity at home, and billions upon billions of dollars for war. Defense spending they call it. It's not defense (though certainly some of it may be). Let's call it what it is: "military expenditures".

And what is the response from those we intend to fight? The Taliban promise a surge of their own, a spring offensive of suicide bombings in Afghanistan. And what of Iraq? A U.S. general on the ground warns that their last ditch effort to secure Bagdhad with American human sandbags will take time. Indeed!

Such a legacy to leave behind. Endless War with a Hydra, now that is pure genius! I've learned in raising my children that it's important to connect the correcting behaviors I engage in with an intended end result. Merely bashing at loggerheads results in continued escalation with no end in sight. What is our intention in fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq? Because unless we know that, we have no way of heading towards it.

Put another way, you can't defeat hatred and violence if what you have to offer in return is only more hatred and violence. It's like fighting yeast with sugar, or drought with salt.

I do not defend the fanatics who would encourage suicide bombings, or worse engage in them. They are barbarians. No way to slice it that makes killing one's own, and killing others a prosperous enterprise. But what are we offering in return?

Why not redeploy our U.S. combat troops in Iraq mostly to secure the borders. No one in or out of Iraq, until the violence, the daily suicide bombings, the utter destruction, subsides. Because, while Iraq may continue in unabated chaos, the greater fear at the moment is that a rapid withdrawal by the U.S. would result in a far more effective breeding ground for exporting terrorists around the world. Why not also put our full commitment behind infrastructure building. Isn't that why we have an Army Corps of Engineers? $100 billion more? For what. Damn it, there are ways to spend money that actually bring positive results.

The issue is this: the lack of foresight and planning on the part of the Bush administration in entering Iraq, overthrowing the government, with considering any of the previous work that had studied the likely consequences, and preparing for what might follow, has resulted in unprecedented chaos. But the past is the past. It's the future that we must create. We can not simply exit, because we are in large part responsible for the mess. It may not in fact be truly salvageable at this point. We need to face that. But we need to do what we can to work toward an end result. Where are we heading?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Could this be the winds of change?

I let the deadlines slide. You may recall my new coach requested a laundry list of responses from me on short deadlines that I simply couldn't keep. I had hoped to get him something by last night, but as you might imagine from my last post, I was in no mood to do anything entailing thought at the point I arrived home. In fact, all I could muster was to grab a beer from the fridge and sit... That felt good enough after a while to join my family for dinner. My wife cooked.

I sent Paul a note this morning that I'd get him responses tonight... and I will. As you will see, I've got something to discuss.

On the drive to my language class yesterday, I pulled out one of my audio recorders set it for dictate and had a go at answering one of Paul's questions:
Send me a list of any type of paying work you are willing to pursue while you pursue your career in academia before we talk on Monday.
You know, a little question like that. Any type of work. What would I do? I started to speak. Must confess, the process of thinking out loud into a recorder seems so much more unnatural to me than sitting at the keyboard (or a notebook) and writing. Funny that, isn't it? Writing is rather not the earlier evolutionary development. But then, there is the question of thought. Do we think in speech? Surely not. But that's another point entirely.

What would I do? On the intake survey, he asked:
If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect situation for yourself as a professional and as a person, what would it look like?
To which I replied:
I would have great freedom in my choice of direction, which projects to move ahead on. I would be involved in efforts to advance our understanding of human behavior, and toward making the world a better place. I would be surrounded by intelligent and engaged colleagues, who could be called up for their expertise, to answer my questions, or to collaborate with on projects. And I would likewise be called up to assist them with my own expertise. I would have sufficient funding and stability that I wouldn't fear to attempt longer term projects that might exhibit a degree of risk of failure, but nonetheless promised a great deal in terms of payoff to society.
As I sat in the car, assaulting my recorder with hesitating words um... uh.... I thought about some of the grants I had been so long ago thinking of applying for. There was also an NPR mention of a relatively new program of one of their major sponsoring foundations. When I recovered from the commute, I did a little web (and hard drive) searching.

In the midst of searching, I came across a brief article (a press release of sorts) on the website of a large, well-established corporate giant, dealing with an ongoing research program that meshed almost exactly with an idea I have for practical applications in the world of the research that most excites me.
There are roughly 100 [Corporation Name] [Field] researchers worldwide.
My best guess is there are somewhere between 300 and 3000 workers worldwide in this area of research inside and outside of said corporation, not likely more. Could I join their ranks? I want to make a difference. I want to do exciting, interesting work. I want to be able to sit at a dinner party and unabashedly discuss what I do for work, with a sparkle in my eye, and welcome their inevitable wows and that's fascinatings.

I think of my dear friend Tracy's recent reflections on being a college professor:
Perhaps it should worry me that none of the things I really love to do have anything to do with academia, but it honestly doesn't. The world of academia is the world of my job -- what I do to earn an honest living. My passion is not there. My passion is here. And I suppose that's OK.
Indeed, it is. I think my wife is a lot like Tracy. She's got an honest job, which she is good at, but about which she isn't passionate. It is also OK that I want to be passionate about my work. I don't want it to take away from my family (which I confess my current obsession with not having such work probably does), but as my wife recently reflected in response to a relayed inquiry from my coach:
Now, your ideas and dreams are extremely valuable. They are what make you the man I fell in love with, they are what make you Articulate. I love to share your ideas and dreams with you.
I am not one who compartmentalizes well. I am who I am; I wear my heart on my sleeves. And frankly, those who like me must like me that way.

So, I sat looking at this article/press release, and started dreaming about getting a job at their research site. Convergences. That's what I often seek in life, like signposts pointing me in a particular direction. The research campus for this work is in a region I have often considered ideal. There's good prospects for the Rocket Scientist to work about 20 or 30 miles away.

Okay, slow down. That's what I tell myself. Look before you leap, because I'm a leaper. We'll see. But I have discovered that, despite my ignorance, there is a name for the work, a field (more in corporate research than in academia), and a possible direction for me to head, one which seems to promise all those things I seek. The big fear I have now is that it might require more training for me to become marketable in the field. But we'll see. If I could get even a low-level job in the field with benefits for additional training...

Commute the commute

Yesterday, returning home from my language class, I spent 30 minutes driving the distance from campus to the highway on-ramp. Yes, really. We're talking about 1-2 miles tops! As I sat in traffic (wishing I had Ianqui beside me to snap a photo, because I just know she would have loved it), a fellow jogged by, with a simple yellow t-shirt, the bold letters clearly custom made on the cheap:
was all it read. At that moment, I wanted to abandon my vehicle, chase him down and hug him. I hated cars too.

I listened during the infuriating drive (two and a half hours before I stopped the engine in my driveway), to NPR covering the UN Report on climate change. And I thought to myself just what the hell am I doing here? Granted, I could in fact (most weeks) take public transport, but that would guarantee a minimum of two hours each way, with a transfer to another bus, assuming they keep schedule, which I seriously doubt. Meaning, I could be stranded halfway there. Not like the public transport in the Old World.

Okay, I confess to another thing: I am pretty good in this language, pretty good at understanding what is said to me, pretty good at making myself understood, and pretty good at making sense of what I read... well, with the assistance of a good dictionary and a reference grammar. I'm actually pretty awful when it comes to producing the right grammatical construct. Admittedly, I studied the language for all of 8 weeks, a decade ago at a summer workshop. I've been to the country several times, including 10 months as a Fulbrighter.

This class is for me, not for a requirement, for the instructor, nor for credit; it's for me to improve my skills, period. Point being: the commute, to sit through an hour and a half of hand-holding and impatience, simply doesn't sit well with me. Of course, I've paid for the class, so I suppose I can propose that we communicate via email re: my independent project (which is actually relevant to my dissertation-to-book project). Whatever, I don't think I can sit through that traffic again, knowing that I'd rather be spending Friday evening having a relaxing dinner with my family, contributing less to global warming and pollution. I am working nearly every day with the language, so I expect that my skills will necessarily improve.

I think this might be for the best.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Apparently, I made a mistake in reporting that deadlines are useful for me. Yesterday afternoon, as I prepared to finish up and head home to be with the boys, I received an email from my coach, with a laundry list of tasks, with deadlines of today and tomorrow. Gaaack! Here is my reply:
Hi Paul,

First off... to clarify, I'm not someone who thrives on deadlines. That said, I find deadlines useful because they may help me prioritize tasks. I say may because sometimes a deadline is simply a break point for when I decide to forego a task rather than fulfill it. That in itself is useful, since it enables me to move on to something else, usually something I'm more committed to, or interested in.

I say these things because my initial reaction to your email yesterday afternoon, as I prepared to leave my office and spend time with the boys, was gut-wrenching. I feel a bit overwhelmed with the quantity of tasks (each one that properly will require energy and time) and the short deadlines you imposed. Partly, this is simply because I do have deadlines that are somewhat immutable at the moment. I'm taking an advanced language class (three hours of commuting on Friday), for which I have both assigned work, as well as an independent translating project, both of which I put on a back burner earlier this week, but which require a good deal of my time and energy today and tomorrow. I also have a conference in three weeks in Europe, for which I'm working up some analyses of data, which require a good deal of time, energy, and concentration.

I appreciate your pushing me, and I welcome your attitude that big changes lead to success. Let me spend a little time on the other tasks, regain my sense of control a bit, then tackle at least some of the tasks you've just given me by the deadlines you've set. I'll do my best to accomplish all of them in time, but I need to get to some other things first. And some of those tasks (like planning a vacation -- actually we have three trips we're planning this year) will require collaboration with my wife (and others whom we might visit), which means her time and energy as well.

This is only a little resistance to your requests, not rejection of them. On the action front, I worked up a flyer yesterday for my [Longitudinal Project], printed out a hundred copies, and distributed about half of them to various places I hope will net me volunteers. Last night, the Rocket Scientist and I talked a bit about priorities and our future. Seems like she is going through a bit of career crisis herself, and needs to talk a lot of this through, which is great, so we can dream and plan together.

--I wonder if all this self-report is useful to any of you, or whether it comes across as a bit too much navel-gazing on my part. Delurk, anyone?