Friday, March 16, 2007

Beginning the break

I have a habit: when I wish something to become real, I put it in writing, and send it off to someone.

In 2001, while serving as the de facto director of a center for the interdisciplinary study of [Field 1] (I had a 100% TA-ship attached to the center, with Tasse Plein as my advisor), I drafted the bylaws, giving it a structure, and I designed it's logo, which stands to this day.

This week, I put that creativity to work on my own consultancy. I designed a business card and letterhead. I printed them up. The first thing I did, was package up some homemade jam to send off to Susan Trout, one of my new friends from [Industry Conference West]. She works for [Corporate Giant], and became a fast friend and advocate for me, while also offering some pointed criticism. Enclosed in the box with the jam, I put a new business card, and hand wrote a note on my letterhead.

Had a good coaching this morning, jointly with my wife. It was mostly occupied with interactions between her and Paul. I think it was quite productive, and will give us some jumping off points for moving ahead with collective dreaming.

I feel the break with an academic career search building, even while the possibility of being hired by [Alternate University] looms. I might be quite content to pick up some online courses, while building a future of my own design.

Here are some excerpts of emails I sent today to Joe Krowicki and Tasse Plein. Put it in writing, and it becomes real:
Hi Joe,

Life goes on. Just got your official [Lake View U.] "thanks but no thanks" letter. I suppose you're in Europe, or somewhere in between. I hope the trip proves productive and enjoyable for you.

Here's my latest, since you asked to be kept informed. I attended [Industry Conference West] as I mentioned. It was quite inspiring. The projects that are underway in [Applied Research Field] are really something. I left the conference with about 20 business cards from contacts I had made, along with perhaps another 20 or more names of people to follow up with, many of whom I've already sent inquiries to. So far, nothing concrete. But I decided in the meantime to get started on some research which I hope will serve to improve [Forgery]. As a vehicle for these efforts I've started the shell of my own consultancy. Attached is a symbol of this new persona.
While I still believe I would enjoy the role of professor, indeed I have confidence that I would play it well, I've tired much of the role I've been playing these past couple years, of perpetual job seeker. It's discouraging, disappointing, and seemingly useless: much effort for no reward, and no benefit to others. At least if I've got a classroom, I know something will get through to the students. But to send off application after application to bored and tired search committees, with uncertain agendae, administrative diktats, imposed curricular requirements, is wearing in the extreme. This is not what I signed on for when I went back to school for a PhD.

I like research. I like working to solve real problems, grounded in practical needs. I haven't been trained for that. It's a different sort of focus than I'm used to, a more broad audience. I can't say I've fully given up the goal of becoming a professor, but I'm less and less inclined to fit myself into the pre-ordained roles defined by visionless administrators and search committees. I suppose I should apologize for the bitterness that comes through. I've worked hard to accomplish something as an academic; I've trod on the path through the woods, only to find a barren field at the clearing. Damn it, I'm going to find a path that leads to fruit!

Thanks for being a mentor to me in this, and for your patience in hearing me gripe.

Hi Tasse,

It's been a while. I suppose you were likely contacted by [Alternate University] this week. I applied to them on a whim, having seen an ad for their opening on some website about a month ago. It might be nice to have some use for my training in [Field 1]. Other than that, the academic job search has continued to net me little but silence and frustration. While I haven't fully given up the hope of finding meaningful work as a professor, I've realized that I hate the role I've been playing these past couple years, of perpetual job seeker. I don't play it well.

A few weeks ago, I attended [Industry Conference West]. ...then headed off to Europe for [Field 2 Conference]. I got back a couple weeks ago, and have been clearing my plate of obligations, seeking a new direction to move forward. I'm not sure where this will all lead, but I am certain that the path I've been on has lead me to nothing but misery and self-doubt. I didn't go back to school to wander aimlessly after completing a PhD. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I want to make a difference. I want to contribute to advancing human knowledge. If I'm denied a classroom, I've got to find myself a different venue for moving ahead.

I've decided to create the shell of a consultancy as the vehicle for some of my present research. With any luck, I'll be able to sell some of my ideas in [Applied Research Field]. Who knows where this will lead. But it's a far more enjoyable way to spend my time, than reading rejection letters from university search committees.

I hope you are well, that [your wife] is enjoying her present state, that the children are thriving. All my best to you, Tasse.


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