Thursday, June 28, 2007

Goodbye, old friend.

My beloved TI-85 calculator, which I got as a high school graduation present from my parents some 14 years ago, needs to be put down. The keypad no longer works - or rather, it's fritzy, sometimes certain buttons work, and sometimes certain buttons don't.

So for the couple of weeks, I've had to be pretty creative with even simple math. Like, I needed to multipy something by eight. But that day my multiply and 8 buttons were both dead. So I had to divide by 2^(-3) instead. That kind of thing.

At first I thought, I should get it fixed! That seems like a straightforward connection problem! Maybe I could even fix it myself if I could get in there with a little soldering iron or who knows what!

But then I thought, let's be practical. I have $X left to expend by the end of this week from one of my pretty flexible accounts, and that would easily cover the costs of a shiny new TI-89 TITANIUM. That seemed more sensible. So that is what I did.

But, I love my old calculator. We've been through so much together - good times (Honors Calc II my freshman year in college) and bad times (Numerical Methods for Partial Differential Equations during grad school), and everything in between. It saw me through 4 years of college, 6 years of grad school, and 4 years as an asst prof, and I'm having a hard time letting go.

My wedding dress is probably still sitting in a folded up pile at the back of my little sister's closet in her old room at my parents' house. But a calculator is getting me all misty.

When I opened the TITANIUM package last night to start playing with the new calculator (which immediately repulsed me with its fancy features I'll never use and its oh-so-smart way of telling me sin(pi/4) is the square root of two over two - my old calculator would just tell me it was 0.707... and then leave it to me to figure out what that was, if it was important to me) I felt like a cheating spouse.

I'm sorry, TI-85, I really am. You're just not working for me any more, and I need to move on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

System, failure.

So, you know how in academia, especially in the major research universities, there are all these things you're supposed to do if you want to be successful? And how you're supposed to do a lot of them? Almost a ridiculous superhuman amount?

This internal conflict arises in me.

Many of those things, those hallmarks of success, are not fundamentally all that important to me - at least not in the volumes I am supposed to be doing them. For example -

Let's say that to support a nice PhD student for a year (stipend, tuition, conference travel, supplies, publication costs, etc.) I need 30,000 clams. There are a variety of sources for this kind of clammage, and I don't particularly care which source I ultimately get it from. Because really what matters to me is that we get to do the research and share the results, and I get to participate in the development of the next set of researchers.

But, the system will tell me that some clams are really worth more than others, because they are more competitive or higher profile or pay more overhead. And the system is not at all impressed by the low value clams.

And so forth.

And, you know, I could work maybe 50-75% more than I do, and maybe rack up some more of those awesome things. But I would do so at the expense of my private life, which is more important to me, in the end, than my work life - even though I definitely value my work life.

So, this conflict. Do I

  • do all the things that are important to the system, as if they are important to me too, and really try to conform myself to the system's definition of success?


  • maintain my own definition of success, and do all the things that are important to me as a person and a researcher and an educator, and in the right balance for me, and hope that enough people in my position do the same, so that in time they system becomes more like us?

I lean towards the latter - at least, I live that way, so I suppose it probably is what I really believe. I think if I did the former, I might grow to hate my job, and leave. Or, imagine how irate I would be if I did the former and it still lead to, you know, unsuccess. Either outcome seems like it would mean I'd wasted a LOT of time and energy and joy.

Or, maybe the people that are successful are the ones that just naturally have EXACTLY the same definition of success as the system, and so they don't ever experience this conflict. Maybe I'm naive; I find this pretty unlikely.

Although, I suppose a lot of faculty types are internally motivated by external recognition of their awesomeness - so, maybe it's really that successful people are that way because the thing that is fundamentally important to them is just the success, however that happens to be measured or judged in their chosen field. I'm sure there are some people that are this way.

(And then I guess some people are just supergenius and savvy and lucky. But, I'm not those things, just a normal kid! So that can't be my strategy anyway!)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Trying to be somebody useful.

That's what I've been up to lately.

Aspect 1: Be a mentor to my junior colleagues

Now that I have a full contingent of graduate students (well, as many as I feel I could reasonably handle at this stage of my career) I have realized I need to develop some kind of core of mentorship with my graduate students. Up until now I have pretty much just been getting by - answering questions as they come up, being more or less completely reactive, and not really helping them develop in their career.

I have only the vaguest ideas of how to do this, but making up my mind in a concrete way that I have this goal has led to some positive forward motion. Yay for that!

Aspect 2: Be a source of preparation for my undergraduates.

Instead of just teaching them. These people are, in some sense, the product of a goodly portion of my work - they are what I produce. And so I really want them to be as awesome as they want to be.

Aspect 3: Be a contributing member of my scientific field.

Now that I feel like I am rolling steadily towards tenure, I don't feel like I need to be quite as me-oriented. Which is good, because "me" doesn't end up being a very strong motivator for me. Now that I'm not so frazzled, I think I am regaining my passion for the social value of the work that I do, which makes the work a lot more enjoyable and satisfying.

Aspect 4: Be a contributing member of my family.

This one will be reaching a critical point later this fall, since my husband and I are expecting our first kid. I am, honestly, trying not to think about it too much, because I know I'll just worry about it (balance, tenure, blahblahblah), and that's really not productive.

You know, in the back of my mind one of the things I'm not looking forward to is that my homelife will no longer be mostly about me. Is it weird that in my professional life, I'm relieved that it's no longer mostly about me, but am dreading this at home?

Hm. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised to find some satisfaction in giving up my generally selfish ways?