Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Ruining" one's career

A while back, FSP and Drugmonkey had posts about "ruining one's career". These really hit home with me in a deep and personal way and I've been trying to figure out how to blog about it ever since. You see, my name is Professor Chaos and I am an inveterate "career ruiner". I have violated almost every 'rule' out there for how to have a successful career. We've all heard these 'rules'. They range from topics to avoid for your dissertation, to not taking a postdoc or phd position at your ph.d/undergrad institute, to not having a baby before tenure (if you're a woman, this rule doesn't seem to apply to men). The exact details of the 'rules', and how severe the consequences for violating them are, vary from field to field, but for my field I have violated most of them.

Along the way, I've learned a few things about  so-called 'rules for success'. 1) They often assume only one type of success: becoming a high-powered R1 rockstar. However, there are many types of 'success' even in just academia and definitely in science more broadly. The key is deciding what your definition of success is. 2) People seem to confuse correlation with causation. The guidelines are correlated with people who have been R1 successful, they are not causative. Which leads me to: 3) By far, the most important thing is to publish interesting research in good journals. Everything else is window dressing. Window dressing only goes so far if you don't have windows (or even a house).

I won't say that violating the rules didn't have its costs. There isn't a stage in my career where someone hasn't used one of the violated rules to argue that I'm not actually as good as I might seem or to tell me I was ruining my career.  I'm sure there were many people over the years who felt like I was Nero fiddling on the rooftop while my career went down in flames. And I know for a fact that this has cost me various postdoc fellowships and jobs. But each time I violated a rule, it was for personal reasons - preferring to follow my own curiosity over scientific trendiness, balancing an academic couple, etc. In the process, however, I have carved out a career I am very happy with, professionally and personally. I have also come to grips with my own definition of success. I no longer strive to become a rock star. Instead, I've created my own category that I strive to be successful at: Indigo Girl. Like the Indigo Girls, I strive to produce high quality product on my own terms. If that's ruining one's career, well, it works for me. In fact, perhaps I should work a little harder at ruining my career. I'm sure there must be at least one rule I still haven't violated!

Friday, October 23, 2009

My own personal assistant

I've been getting a great deal of amusement out of the coverage of a Georgetown University student who advertised for a personal assistant. He will pay his assistant an hourly rate and I particularly loved some of his pay restrictions. For example, he would not pay for the full time to do laundry because much of that time was 'dead time' and the assistant could do their own thing while waiting for the laundry to wash or dry.

This has gotten me thinking, however, about what my own ad for a personal assistant would look like. What skills would I want? What things would I have them do to make my life easier and allow me to focus more on the fun aspects of life like doing my research and playing with my baby?

1) Wet Nurse. It may make me a bad mom in some eyes, but I loathe breast feeding. I loathe lugging a pump around. I loathe hiding in my office hooked up to the pump like a milk cow hoping no one can see through the substantial gaps in my blinds. And I really hate having to worry about my breasts leaking during a meeting with students or colleagues. I would pay big money for a wet nurse. Some might think that this rules out men from becoming my personal assistant, but I would like to assure you that I am not sexist. Male lactation has apparently become more common. Lactating women or men are welcome to apply.

2) Doppelganger. My personal assistant needs to look enough like me that I can send them to faculty meetings and pointless committee meetings while I focus on more interesting aspects of my job. Since I normally don't say much at meetings, no one will think it odd if the doppelganger sits there quietly, staring blankly at the walls. As with the Georgetown student and his laundry policy, most of this time can be spent doing something else, so I will only pay for a subset of the time spent in the conference room. Cross-dressing men are welcome to apply.

3) Editing student papers. I am tired of spending my very limited time reading a sentence like "Dawrin, he be high flying"* What does that even mean?! Having the writing assignments that actually reach me know... intelligible would be a big bonus in my quality of life and I could then focus on the big picture 0f grading for content and logic - if I'm not trying to figure out what that sentence actually says...

*yes, I did once receive a student paper with sentence construction and sentiment that was not much different. Misspelling Darwin in my own touch.

4) University Spam Filter. Yes, my university email does filter spam. However, my university itself is the biggest generator of spam and apparently it does not filter itself. I'm sent everything from thrice yearly announcements that the music department is selling old pianos to messages forwarded from the Vice Provost of Research to the Sponsored Programs Office, from Sponsored Programs to the Dean, from the Dean to her assistant, from the assistant to everyone in the college (email addresses of all 100+ of us in the email header) on a research opportunity that expired three weeks ago. Definitely pre-filtering my email for me will be a major component of my assistant's job.

5) Laundry. Long gone are the days when General Disarray and I could go two weeks between laundry days. I won't say that Baby Mayhem is capable of spinning her head around 360 degrees to projectile vomit on everything within a 6 foot radius, but somehow we now seem to do laundry daily. Much of this laundry involves the three different outfits I have to change into each day because of 'mishaps'.

I'm sure I'm missing other duties I would expect of my personal assistant, but this seems like a good start. If anyone sees any glaring holes in duties, feel free to suggest them! You might want to suggest quickly, though, because as soon as I get a raise from my University, I'll post my ad. Oh..right...the raise...well, take your time...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baby Mayhem's "Full Powers"

Yesterday, Nat left the following comment:

Be sure to keep us updated as Baby Mayhem fully grows into her powers!

I present my vision of what Baby Mayhem's full powers may look like:

I also think the baby sitter accurately reflects the state of mind of the first time parent of a newborn, where Jack Jack's tricks are actually random spewings from all orifices. Also, the scene where the baby sitter gladly gives the baby to Syndrome - the person who comes to get the baby - is actually a good representation of me when my mother showed up to help (I, of course, was the baby sitter).