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2011-07-22 - 11:01 a.m.

...the nature of doing science...

I had another bout of insomnia this week. The little one woke up at 1am and wanted to cuddle. Sometimes, even if the little one goes right back to sleep, I'm up for the duration. That's what happened. I lay on my side for an hour while the night anxieties escalated - it still amazes me how this can happen. The stress of my job becomes insurmountable when I am awakened at 1 or 2am. Then when I finally get to sleep and wake up the next day, the problem has shrunk to its normal size.

Anyway, after the first hour of mulling things over I decided to combat the nighttime heebie-jeebies by reading a book. Normally, when I read a book at bedtime, I'm out cold within 5-10 minutes (if it takes that long). This time, I stayed awake until 5:30am, reading a recent novel about farms and mountain folk in southern Appalachia.

But really, 5:30am??? ugh.

Dragged myself around all day yesterday and tried to keep my humor about me. I think that I mostly succeeded. But sleep-deprivation does put me in one of those surreal situations where I come away from every conversation wondering if I actually offended everyone in the room. I don't think that I did. I didn't have enough conversations to be offensive.

Speaking of which... it's summer on the mountain again. I am the only one there. And today, I'm not there. Which means that there are two staff members in my entire department. No students, no faculty, just two secretaries sitting in quiet offices, waiting to go home. This still amazes me, and I just cannot get used to a culture where work always comes second to lifestyle. I must be a damned Protestant after all!

I think that I resent that my colleagues are everywhere but in the office. It's not that they are not working, it's just that they are ALWAYS away. I've come from jobs where my happiest times occurred when everyone was in their office. We worked, we interacted, we bounced ideas off each other, we went to lunch and talked about crazy stupid things. But unfortunately, this is just not an interactive department. I go months without seeing many of my colleagues. This is a JOB for them. A place to teach and then go home.

My work seems to be a larger part of my life. I realize that people say that the culture of science involves isolation, but I've really not experienced this to the scale that I experience it here. Starting from my grad school days, we worked long days in confined spaces together - there, we befriended or tolerated each other like brothers and sisters. Here, my students seem to feel like heroes if they come in from 10 to 3pm one day a week.

My experiences in Sweden and Germany were different in that people simply did not work insane numbers of hours. And also in that people CAME TO WORK everyday. AND, they ate lunch and shared coffee every day. Lunch and coffee created conversations that created great (well, and not-so-great) ideas. Although I could never get used to their culture of taking 5-6 weeks of holidays per year, I did think that the working culture - the mix between work and lifestyle - was the most balanced that I have ever experienced.

When I first arrived at Dutchess, I remember being shocked by a similar culture of closed doors and deserted hallways. But by the time I left, there was a critical mass of four profs in a row on my hallways with their labs right across the hall. We ALL kept our doors open. That had just developed in my last few months.

And now here. It's all about trade-offs, I know. I have perhaps the most collegial department I have ever experienced in my life. I genuinely like the vast majority of my colleagues, and appreciate hearing their opinions. I had never worked with people who can actually sit through a faculty meeting with directly opposing ideas and actually reach a compromise until I came here. Perhaps that's why I resent their absence from my work life. I rarely benefit from their ideas. I find it near-impossible to collaborate because they are never around. It's hard to find collaborators in other departments because there simply are none in my field around here.

These challenges always require adaptation, and I have adapted. First of all, I've branched into some entirely new research areas, just so that I can find collaborators and students to work with me.

Perhaps you have heard the standard line that men lead and women collaborate. Well, the lesson I'm learning from all of this is that I'm simply not an alpha type, but I feel like I'm in a research chair position that kind of demands alpha-male, silverback gorilla behaviour. Yes, I'm leading a lab with 9-10 students. I organize and lead the meetings. I make the decisions. But I don't feel like I'm leading a research team that will answer THE research question of the century. I am helping a bunch of curious students to pursue what they want to do, and trying to set up projects that complement both of our interests, and finding the appropriate collaborators so we can work together on fun things. We make tiny incremental advances on several questions.

Which leads to the next lesson I've learned over the years. There are researchers who focus on one topic they love. They research ONLY that topic. They get far. They become the international expert on that topic. They get hired and win awards. Then there's the other category (my category). We just want to do too many interesting things. We wind up with a research program that is more of a tangled vine of ideas strung together. It means we do a lot of things but rarely become experts.

Yup. that's me. and in my case the two characteristics have fed upon each other. I'm having a heck of a time finding collaborators in my research area here. So it's hard for me to focus and pursue research that falls directly in my field. Instead, I succomb (sp?) to the urge to try lots of things with collaborators I enjoy.

Sigh. well, we'll see what happens. have I mentioned that this is tenure time? Have I mentioned that I'm being evaluated right now? hmm.

Tired. Maybe I should check out some daytime sleep like those two cute kittens that are curled up on my sofabed over there. yeah. maybe.

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...they are just words, Suzi... - 2011-08-29
...the nature of doing science... - 2011-07-22
....what is your place knowledge? - 2011-07-21's Friday... - 2011-07-15
...a small ripple on the big wave... - 2011-02-04

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