Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Increasing your academic visibility

One of the key things every new PI has to do when you start a new lab is to get the word out. You gotta let people know where you are and what you are working on, which is why doing the conference circus circuit is really important early on. But, there is a lot more one can do and I'm really starting to see the benefit of one major thing.

When I first got to Employment University, my department asked me to take on the seminar series. At the time it was a bit hodgepoged and disjunct so I think they expected me to invite a couple of people here and there and call it a day. I had, however, been in charge of a seminar series as a grad student, so the task wasn't particularly daunting and I quickly realized I could use it to my advantage.

I sent out a request within the department for suggested speakers, and as per expectation I only got a few. That gave me freedom to pretty much ask anyone I wanted to see give a talk. I made a list of all the heavy hitters in my field within my geographic "sphere of invitation" and started working through it. I knew I was going to do the seminar series for at least two years, so I was able to spread these talks out so it wasn't blatantly obvious what I was doing.

In the process of hosting some big name folks to the department I have had the opportunity to not only increase interest in my filed within my department, but also get on the radar of some key people from other institutions. This is paying dividends both at conferences when I get the opportunity to catch up with these people and meet friends of theirs, but also because people tend to return the favor and invite you for a seminar at their institution.

More recognition + more invited talks + more interesting (for me) talks in my department = win. It can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but coordinating the seminar series can have huge up side if you use it to your advantage.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Big meeting, small meeting

As a scientist, I can wear a lot of hats depending on how I want to sell the work I am doing. Like most labs, I can self identify with my study subjects, the phenomenon that we work on, the tools we use or how we approach our questions. That leaves me a pretty broad spectrum of conferences to go to, some of which I have been attending for years and others which I have only recently started to go to. I have my "must attend" list, but I try and mix it up with the other conferences I attend to both expand my exposure and to see what some of the other meetings are like.

One thing that is rapidly becoming a law for me is "Over 4 parallel sessions = far less time spent attending talks". It doesn't seem to matter what the conference is or how many people I know there, I just can't get excited about a meeting with a shit-ton of parallel sessions. Rather than seeing it as a smorgasbord of tasty science, it feels like a firehouse of information that I would rather not put my face in front of. Maybe I'm just getting lazy in my old age, but running through the maze of rooms to switch between several of the 15 parallel sessions during an afternoon just doesn't do it for me these days. And how do the organizers know to pick the two talks I really want to see and schedule them simultaneously?

I go to big meetings sometimes for a change and it's a good way to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while, but I find that I spend less time in the talks and more time chatting with people during the day. I'm not sure why that is, but big meetings get to be less about the presentations and more about socializing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Travelers remorse

Part of the job is traveling. Whether it is for conferences or field work or collaboration, there is little way to avoid it. In general, this is something I really enjoy. Through my work I have traveled to numerous places I wouldn't have gotten to another way. As enjoyable as it is, however, there is a cost.

Even on a good day, leaving my family at home adds strain to their lives and forces an accommodation of a single-parent household. It's not devastating, but it is an imposed weight that I am very aware of. To make matters worse, there is a history of bad things happening at home while I travel, and this trip is no different. Both my wife and daughter are quite sick, resulting in a double admit to the ER at 4:30 this morning. Both are doing better now and I am hoping that we have hit the point where it can't get much worse, but it's early in the trip and I will be switching continents in a few days.

I don't know that there is much point to this post other than continuing the discussion on balancing work / life demands. Whereas the travel part of the job can be a lot of fun for those of us doing the traveling, every decision to go away carries with it an implicit demand that one's partner will pick up the slack at home. Sometimes that's a lot to ask.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hellz Yeah

Why did it take so long to get internet on planes? Thank you whoever solved this issue.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unfriendly departments

I have had the good fortune during most of my career to either be in departments that are generally very friendly or ones where battles between the different egos were kept between said egos and were not projected onto the trainees of each lab. This has been a good thing. However, in one of my training stops I landed in a fragmented department that was odd from an outsider's perspective.

Several core groups co-existed within the department, and while there was never any open hostility between them, the different groups just didn't interact. Within groups = lots of great interaction; between groups = as if each group was their own continent when the world was believed to be flat.

I am an outgoing person who likes to get to know the people I see every day. I can't help it. A silent elevator ride with the person who works in the next lab over drives me nuts. Especially when we likely have much in common.

So what's a guy to do to break through these barriers of stupidity? Borrow shit.

That's right, start asking for stuff. Doesn't matter if you need it or not. After about 4 months of lab-to-lab silence I decided that I was going to march into the other labs and start asking for the lab equivalent of a cup of sugar. Who cares that I had a pound of sugar on my bench, no one minds giving out a bit of sugar and the real mission wasn't to get reagents anyway. No, it was ninja ice breaking with the added benefit of the return visit to replenish the sugar once ours "came in".

It's easy to put on blinders when you work a lot in a lab. Maybe you have all the friends that you need either in your group or outside the work environment, but nothing bad has ever become of a sincere effort to get to know those around you and my efforts ended up paying off when I actually did need to borrow something.

Give it a try and tell me I'm wrong.

Actual conversation: Time warp

PLS: I think we should get everyone together on Wednesday to look through talks for the conference. That way there will be time to fix stuff before we go.

Grad Student: Well... we're leaving at 6:20am the next day.

PLS: We're leaving Friday.

GS: No, Thursday. We spending Thursday night at that collecting site you had us book.


GS: I can go get the itinerary.

PLS: Are you shitting me?


PLS: Dude! Fuck. Sigh.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Can I get a Land's End catalog, STAT?

I think I need to start buying pleated Land's End khakis and wrinkle-free dress shirts. It may be the only way that I can start to look professorial enough to stop people from assuming I'm a student.

In only the latest example, I was asked to give a 5 minute dog and pony show research explanation to a political candidate for some district somethingorother. She brought along a contingent of people, including two interns who appeared to think their job of making sure the schedule was adhered to was a life or death posting, and toured the lab. I talked about what we do, including how our science is both good for the state from a job and application perspective. She took this all in as I described the cool equipment we use and how state infrastructure is blah blah blah. A few questions were asked, suggesting the candidate had at least listened. And then... "So, are you a student here?"

I'm not sure why this flusters me every time, I should be used to it. All I could work out of my suddenly-frozen brain was, "Uh, no I'm the PI in the lab." Of course, this meant nothing to them, and the Dean had to pipe in "Principal Investigator" in the awkward seconds of blank stares following the communication logjam. Being a politician, the candidate quickly managed a backtracking two-step, claiming to be impressed by someone with my youthful appearance being in such a position and all I could do was make an awkward joke about growing up wanting to be a Magnum PI and having to settle for this instead. They laughed politely, an intern glanced at their watch while writing something down and I changed the subject.

I need a better way to deal with this question. At the age of 33, until the ravages of the job and parenthood prematurely age me, I think I'm going to be dealing with this question for a bit unless I start wearing the professor uniform. Unfortunately, pleats are my mortal enemy.

I do have the advantage of age being the single factor keeping me from fitting the prof mold in people's mind, so I am sure that many readers have had to deal with this for far longer than I. Perhaps there are effective strategies to head this shit off?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What exactly is a teaching moment in the bloggosphere?

GeekMommyProf started a blog about a month ago, which burst onto the scene in a hurry. Most blogs (including this one) toil in obscurity for a while, eventually gain some steam and get enough readers coming back to get talked about a bit here and there. In the process of earning your blog chops, you make mistakes and write some stupid shit, but no really notices because, again, there are like 6 people who read it. But GMP started off with an uncharacteristically large readership for an independent blog when she hit the ground running and so when she made a mistake people noticed.

At her one month mark, she has written a post in which she suggests that the response from Isis and others to one of her early posts has left her a bit disillusioned with blogging. Specifically, she would prefer if disagreements over content were handled more discretely, rather than on a big stage. GMP suggests that her mistake was an opportunity for a "teaching moment", whereby anyone who read what she wrote and found it offensive could have contacted her by email to explain their position and she would have rewritten the post.

Fair enough, no one likes to be de-panted in front of a large audience, nor does anyone appreciate hordes of angry commenters (weel, maybe some people do). But, if your intent as a blogger is to reach a broad audience, even if mainly for the interaction between your writing and that of the commenters, occasionally you are going to step in shit. This is the nature of the beast and it is a good idea to know this going in, or at least come to this realization rather quickly once people start to read what you write. The internet is a big place and even if you have a regular group of readers who you are comfortable with, there is nothing keeping the world from reading what you write and interpreting it based on their own experiences, not your's.

If a reader gets offended by something you write, it is in your best interest to have them contact you off-blog, but not theirs, and probably not the reader's. As much as it sucks to be called out, what is important to remember is that just because something doesn't look like a teaching moment in your shoes doesn't mean that others aren't learning something. Less than 10% of people that read most blogs take the time to comment even on a good day, IME. Hell, there are many blogs that I read that I rarely comment on, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in the the discussion or learning something from it. Even (especially?) a feisty discussion about topics that people are passionate about gives both those watching and those participating a window into the different experiences and backgrounds that the combatants come from and how that colors their views. You can agree or disagree, but the point is it makes people think about the fact that their own view is not necessarily right or the only view out there. Don't underestimate how important this is.

So, despite the contention of many that the "civil bloggosphere" is their preferred pasture in which to graze, I would argue that far more is learned in places where the discussion roams to where some get uncomfortable. Sometimes as bloggers we make mistakes in our writing and sometimes we have to defend or apologize. But a combination of a thick skin and a willingness to learn from even the heated discussions that occur will end up serving most bloggers and readers very well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blogger Rec Letters

Many of us are writing grants this time of year because both NIH and NSF have deadlines around now, as do several foundations. Friend of the blog, Professor in Training, finds herself applying to an agency that requires recommendation letters. Not only is this annoying, but it means annoying your colleagues to do something they thought they were done with after you got a job.

But in the comments section of PiT's post, Dr. No volunteered to write a letter for PiT that she could send along and I think this is a brilliant idea. So, to keep PiT from having to bother her colleagues, I offer this letter:

Dear Important Granting Agency For Stuff I Know Nothing About,

I am writing this letter in support of the proposal entitled "Cool Shit I Want To Do" being proposed by Professor in Training. Frankly, I know nothing about the science being proposed, but PiT really loves your agency and wants to work with you. She does really cool shit in the lab, so this proposal is a natural extension of that effort. Plus, I hear she has agreed to hold off on any major surgeries to repair both old and new injuries for the duration of the proposed funding period, ensuring that she will mostly be in one piece for this work and probably won't run off with any hot doctors. An additional benefit of funding this proposal would be lighting a small candle of hope for a broad audience of us junior PIs who are starting to wonder if agencies actually give out money to anyone in their first couple of years. Finally, because PiT has a super cool accent, you will be able to read her proposal in the accent of your choice, kinda like changing the voice on your GPS to find the least condescending version of "recalculating". I know the proposal is hot shit, but with all of the reasons I have listed above, I can't imagine there is any reason not to double the budget and just send the money.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The balance

There has been quite the discussion recently about work / life balance and how it relates to gender issues. Things started with Isis' commentary on a ScienceCareers piece on balancing the chores with work, that was aimed specifically at women. After a bit of a scuffle, mostly on Isis's blog, Jim Austin had this to say at ScienceCareers. Despite the "special announcement" (which ends with the dismissive Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.), I'm not sure Jim ever really heard Isis and Zuska's complaint that the implicit assumption in ALL of the ScienceCareer articles aimed at work / life balance was that the target audience was women and only women.

Based on the discussion, ScientistMother called out the men, and specifically Drug Monkey, to write more about how they deal with the balance between work and life. I think that's a fair thing to ask, because by not addressing this it appears is if it isn't a problem for us and I can assure you, at least in my case, that is not true.

Most of you will know that I am married and have a daughter who is just over two. While I am not in a two body academic relationship, my wife works close enough to where I do that we own one car. I mention this because it is critical to how our lives are scheduled. Basically, our hours are daycare's hours. We drop the Wee One off at 7:30 when it opens and we pick her up at the end of the day (though not when daycare closes), usually between 4:30 and 5:00. Those are my weekday in office hours, whether I like it or not because I have no other option to get home.

At first I found this difficult because I was used to working later in the day, but now I actually appreciate the restriction. Why? Because it means that no matter what I go home with my family and we play, eat dinner and have bath/bed time with our daughter together. I can go back to the office afterwards if I want, though more often than not I work in the evenings from home. But during the week we don't see the Wee One for that long each day and this schedule means that I see her all the time she is not in daycare. It means I have to be a bit more organized and that I have to get everything I can done during the day, but it also means that I spend more time with my daughter and, importantly, that the parenting burden is not skewed. For the same reasons, I try hard not to work much on weekends, but when I have to, I pick one day to get things done and spend the other day with my family or just with my daughter if my wife has to work.

As far as chores go, we have essentially reached a balance where the overall work is split evenly without both of us doing every task equally. I do more of the cooking and dish washing, whereas my wife does more laundry and yard work. We both clean the house when it needs it, which usually either happens in concentrated bursts or in fragmented pieces (just the bathroom gets done, or just the kitchen gets cleaned) during the Wee One's naps or after dinner. We take turns giving the Wee One a bath and putting her to bed. For the most part it works.

The tough part is travel. At the moment I travel more for work than my wife and that places an enormous burden on her during those times to single parent while I am away. For some reason, when I travel is also the time when random catastrophe strikes the household, making my time away that much more difficult on my family. There have even been times when my travel and changes around the house have caused anxiety in the Wee One, which was a bit scary. Travel times are stressful times and I've tried to make careful decisions about travel to get the most out of the time I am away. Sometimes it means missing a relevant meeting. It is what it is.

Kids are a lot of work. Relationships are a lot of work. Work is a lot of work. Everyone finds their balance and what makes the most sense in their relationship to get 26 hours worth of stuff done in 24 hours. There is no one right way to make it happen but allowing home duties fluctuate between us depending on each other's work burden at the time allows us to manage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can junior PIs make decent mentors?

Following from a discussion on last weeks' post about the new NSF is borked forum, the comments moved towards the topic of junior PIs and whether they should be postdoc mentors. The start of the discussion was sparked by Dr. Girlfriend, who made the comment:

I honestly do not believe the average new PI has the experience to qualify as a suitable postdoc mentor.

I took issue with this being an unsuitably broad statement to make and then we were off on a tangent of no return. So, I thought it might make for an interesting broader discussion. Do you, dear readers, believe that a pre-tenure faculty member can make a good postdoc mentor?

As full disclosure, I obviously have a horse in this race and may or may not be currently in this role. But certainly my comments can be interpreted from the position of someone who feels they can be an effective mentor at this stage of their career.

Most importantly, however, I think it is key to recognize that effective mentorship does not only mean one-on-one activities. As I stated in the previous thread:

We are also making the assumption here that the lab PI is the only person to whom a postdoc can go for guidance, and IME, that is also far from true. As a postdoc I consulted several PIs, both at my home institution and elsewhere, on a variety of different issues from applications, to funding and taking a position. I'm not sure how that would change based on the experience of the primary PI.

It is ridiculous to impose a requirement of tenure on anyone who wants to mentor a postdoc (as Dr. Girlfriend seems to want to do), because every mentor is going to have strengths and weaknesses. A postdoc and supervisor need to be able to recognize these 'holes' and find other mentors to compensate for weaknesses of the PI. This is no different from the situation where a postdoc wants to go into an 'alternative' career and must find mentors that will be able to guide them through that process.

As I have stated before, mentoring is about facilitating the transition from trainee to whatever career, for your peeps. If I am mentoring someone who wants to go into industry, I'm going to make sure they find someone in that field to talk to. Why is that any different when it comes to being a faculty member? Why can't junior PIs encourage their postdocs to solicit other information on being a faculty member from people at different stages of their careers? All of us do this all the time and it wouldn't make any sense to not suggest that to our trainees.

So, I guess I'm confused or maybe just used to ensuring that I have a broad base of mentorship and that my trainees do as well. Perhaps I just didn't realize that I need to be a Swiss Army knife of mentorship, when I probably see myself, at best, as a spork.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good golly! The System done been broke!

Funding for science is tight right now. No one knows that more than I and the stack of rejected grant proposals I have on my desk. For a lot of people the shifting climate sucks and for new people it can be be painful to get one's foot in the door. But, is this in itself proof positive that The System is broken? Aureliano Buendia* thinks so.

This morning I was sent a link to a new forum for discussing the "problems" with NSF and what can be done to fix it. Specifically, the creator of the forum states its purpose as discussing "What problems have you had with NSF? What creative solutions have you come up with to these problems? The forum is designed to address such issues. Let's bring out our best ideas, and hope that NSF pays attention."

In one of the inaugural forum posts Aureliano Buendia wonders whether going to the "Canadian system" is really what NSF should migrate towards - Smaller grants ($30 - $50K/year direct for 5 years) with a high rate of funding (~50%). Perhaps this would work for some researchers but I think if you ask your Canadian colleagues whether this is an ideal system you might come away thinking that it is not quite Nirvana on Earth. For a whole host of reasons being stuck with a $30K / year (normal first time grant) lab budget for 5 years (because you can only have one NSERC grant at a time) stifles research progress during a critical time for lab growth. Don't get me wrong, there is some tremendous work being done in Canada, but if you can't apply to other agencies to support your work there is no hope of hiring a postdoc in the first 5 years of the lab unless you attract someone with their own funding. Zoinks, Scoob.

With his cat-like reflexes to perturbations in the interwebs, Drug Monkey has already weighed in on the forum and brings up a good point.

In addition I would encourage everyone to consider closely an issue that comes up over and over again in the NIH-focused discussion. We are all subject to a certain myopia*. The first symptom is that we interpret changes in our personal success rate (if we are relatively senior) or a lack of personal success as being unambiguous evidence that TheSystemIsBroken!. The second symptom is promotion of "solutions" that benefit our own personal career, laboratory, research programme, etc. At the expense of others of course ("Do it to Julia, not me, Julia!")

To me, there appears to be a lot of concern over the size of many grants these days and a lot o'"back in the day, we did science for A NICKLE! And we liked it!" goin' on over at the new forum, but I encourage my readers to go take a look and weigh in if you think you have something to offer. I will be curious to see how the comments develop and whether the consensus opinion is that a small grant mechanism would be a good thing or whether people feel this is just a public foot stomping by an aging scientist having trouble getting funds.

*I have no idea if this person is real or a Pseud.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Survivor gifts

In my experience, there is a sort of tradition in science that a supervisor gives a gift to a trainee leaving the lab. I think it's a nice gesture and I know I appreciated it when I left the various stops in my academic life. Of course, now being on the supervisor side of things, I've got to be the one coming up with the gift ideas.

I bring this up because I have a student graduating by the end of the summer and since my summer is a vortex of deadlines and travel it occurred to me that I should consider what I would get as a gift now rather than picking something up at the local convenience store 10 minutes before the defense. I mean, every likes fudgesicles, but they may not make the best going away gift.

The fall back for almost every supervisor is books. We all like books and there is an essentially endless number from which to choose, but unless you know what the person leaving is moving on to, picking the books that will be useful to them in the future is not all that easy. Plus, at the rate people move in most academic fields, you might as well be giving someone lead bricks.

Surely there are more innovative ideas out there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My daughter and the ShamWOW

Having kids is sometimes like living with "carnies" - every day is different and you never know what you're going to get when you wake up in the morning. The good days are really good and the bad days really suck. I'm not one of those parents who will tell everyone I know that having a child is the best thing I've ever done with my life. It is very fulfilling and I love the Wee One in indescribable ways, but having a kid is a crazy roller coaster ride that might actually go off the tracks at any point. If nothing else, it gives you a tremendous amount of retrospective respect for your own parents.

One of the best things about having a child, however, is the funny and crazy shit they do. They constantly challenge your perceptions about what you think they should be/care about/do/enjoy/get scared by, and they change so quickly that you are always on your toes. The Wee One is now 2 years and 3 months old (27 months for all of you crazy parents who insist on doing everything in months. After a year it's time to get over it people) and I am constantly amazed by what she understands or says. Last week on the way home in the care she started yelling "I want Lady Gaga!", and my wife and I looked at each other and said "who?" I think the Wee One has been reading Isis' blog.

But I digress.

Recently I was in a Dollar Store to pick up some trinkets for a kid's party and saw that they had a display of ShamWOWs, the highly absorbent towels. I'm not much of one for infomertials, but I had some use for such a towel to dry dishes, so I picked one up by the register. I brought the thing home and as soon as the Wee One found it she thought it was the Best Thing Ever! She's drawn to the damn thing like a moth to a light and anytime she sees it she grabs it and either wants to play with it (apparently it makes a hilarious tail if held behind the back), wants to clean something with it or decides it is her new blanket. Of course, I'm imagining her going to sleep with it and waking up all dehydrated, but that wouldn't probably happen, right? Right?

But she doesn't care that it's a $1 piece of fabric with unusual absorbing properties - it's soft, flexible and brightly colored. What more does a kid need? I can tell her "Honey, that's just a towel, can you put it back on the stove", and she'll say "No daddy, it's a tail!" I guess the point of this random and rambling anecdote, other than the fact that my tolerance for writing about science is being devoured by grants, is that we often make assumptions about what is desirable to others without taking into account how they see things. If you pay attention, sometimes you find out that there can be many interpretations of what you see as a single thing. And sometimes a dish towel is a tail if it makes a kid squeal with laughter.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Repost: The Impotence of bad writing.

Things are a little crazy now that I'm back in the office, but I just received something to review that made me essentially want to write this post over again, so here it is from May 11, 2009.

There have to be a hundred posts out there about how important it is to write well in science, but here's 101. I can't tell you how many students I had as a TA tell me they didn't care about writing because they wanted to be a scientist and how many more were shocked and appalled when I took off points from an assignment for atrocious grammar or spelling. I wasn't crazy about it, but I have my limits that were constantly pushed by the students. Ironically, I'm a horrible speller. However, I know this and make sure to spell-check everything I am writing that might be seen by others. I consider myself a decent writer who is always looking for ways to improve and most often I do that through reading and noticing when someone really gets their point across effectively. I look at how they have structured their point or argument and keep it in the back of my head. What did they say that convinced me and how did they get there? If you can lead the reader along so that they reach your conclusion about a sentence before you spell it out, you've done a good job.

When it comes to manuscripts, I always remark on grammar and spelling though I don't take the time to mark up everything as that is not necessarily the job of the reviewer. The gray area is when it comes to grants. In theory we are supposed to be evaluating the science (and broader impacts in the case of NSF) and not necessarily the ability of the writer to actually write, but they are inseparable. Maybe I get hung up on the writing a bit too much, but I find nothing more distracting than a poorly written grant. I have on my desk a proposal for a project including 6 PIs with a budget in excess of a million dollars and I had to put it down after reading the first two pages because the writing just sucks and it was pissing me off. Is that how you want a reviewer reading through your grant? No. Angry reviewers are bad and if they are angry because your writing is the equivalent of nails on a chalk board how likely are they to think your science is kick ass? Like it or not, your writing is a direct reflection of you as an academic and as much as I try to see through the grammatical train-wreck and missing words in the back of my head I am thinking that if this proposal wasn't worth your time to edit and clarify, why is it worth my time to read and thoughtfully respond to.

So, dear readers, repeat after me - "Both verbal and written communication are essential facets of science and should be skills that are constantly honed, just like the techniques you use in the lab or field (or PLS will send you back the charred and shredded remains of your crappy grant)."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Conference stratigery

What does an early-career scientist have to do at conferences besides give a good talk? In my mind, it may even be more important to make a friend. Yeah, sounds stupid but hear me out.

Whenever I go to a science gathering (workshop, conference, etc.) I always make it a mission to get to know at least two people in my field more senior than me, who did not know me personally before. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to decide consciously, but it is really easy to just hang out with the people you already know at meetings. Rather than taking the comfortable route, I ensure that I seek out people so that they can put a face to a name they may have seen in the literature, and numerous good things have resulted from making this effort. I've twice been invited for departmental seminars, started a collaboration, been given useful data as well as feedback on my grant proposals that people had reviewed, all based on conversations that happened or started at a meeting.

Does it sometimes mean that I get stuck in awkward conversations or some painful social interactions? Yup. But I consider it a huge waste if I leave a meeting without having gotten at least a couple of senior people to remember my name and in many little ways this pays off. I'll take an edge I can get right now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The mark some places leave

Busy week, my friends. This week kicks off the summer travel schedule for me, which is going to be taking me out of town a lot. I am back in postdoc city for a workshop that has been non-stop since I got here. It's been almost two years since I've been here and not much has changed - a few shops and restaurants have closed or been reinvented, but nothing compared with the changes that I have gone through. In some ways it is centering to be back and in others disorienting.

It's odd being back as a visitor in a place where so much happened in my life when I lived here. I've met up with many friends, both academic and otherwise, who I haven't seen since leaving. This morning I walked by the hospital where my daughter was born. Tomorrow I will be spending some time in the lab of my postdoc advisor in between running a few local errands to pick some items up to bring home. I didn't expect it to feel quite like it has turned out being back, but I'm not sure what I expected.

I do miss this place. I miss the city, the people, hell, I miss this country where I lived for so long. But such is the nature of the transient academic life, where multiple stops all over the world is not unusual for many of us. I know when I mentioned before that postdocs should embrace the opportunity to travel and live in new places, some got a little bent out of shape over the idea. To each their own, I suppose, but I know that my experience and my life were enriched by being here and this place will always be one I consider a home.