Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Creative Solutions.

Argh, someone just sent a really clever comment, and as usual I can't figure out which post it was in response to or find it easily until Google visits my page again.

I am too tired to be clever about this right now.

Basically the take-home point was that yes, postdocs are all deluded in thinking they're in the top 25% (we can't all be equally good) and most just aren't creative enough to come up with something better to do.

I do think, based on empirical evidence like comparing how many papers people have published, how much experience I have, etc, that I'm in the top 25%, but so what? In my field we're talking about the top 1% who get Research 1 faculty positions.

So, okay. I know I am not in the top 1%. I don't have the High Impact Publication Record. I might be in the top 10% of eligible postdocs in my field, or I might not.

But who knows. A fellow scientist said something funny to me recently about how people who argue or care about statistics are making decisions based on all the wrong things (sorry I can't remember the pithy phrasing). I thought it was hilarious since as scientists, we really should know enough about statistics to evaluate when and if they are relevant and useful... but anyway. I do think it's a good point. Should we allow ourselves to be discouraged by the odds against us?

Hasn't stopped me so far.

However, I like the way this commenter put it, the gist of which was that if you're staying only because you're not creative enough to come up with something better, that's just pathetic.

I hereby challenge myself and my readers to come up with creative career solutions for a) me and b) everyone in a similar quandary.

I'm drawing a blank though, so if you have some great suggestions, do send them!

I'm not feeling very creative today. I am feeling like I work with a bunch of people, most of whom I do not

a) like
b) respect
c) trust
d) admire.

But mostly I'm thinking about (c) and (d) today.

I always prefer to be around people who have at least some qualities I admire. I try to practice compassion of the Eastern sort, and count my blessings and open my heart and all that good stuff... I did a meditation specifically for this yesterday.

But lately I am really having a hard time scrounging up reasons to admire most of my colleagues.

I guess staying in a field because you think you can do better than the people who are currently doing it... means you're choosing to surround yourself with people you believe to be fundamentally lacking.

Ultimately this is why one of my very best friends left research. She looked at these people and said:

"Not only are they all sexist assholes who treat me like dirt, but they're also morons."

And that was the end of that.

I wish I could feel as certain about quitting as she did when she left. I don't think she's ever given it a second thought.

I swear I'm good at making big decisions, I really am. But only when I'm sure how I feel, and have obvious, finite, options that are clear to me.

In fact, I am getting sick of hearing myself hem and haw about what to do with my career.

Get a life already, sheesh!

The big problem and sticking point for me personally is that I still really like coming up with things I want to test.

And these are not- before people write in to lecture me again!- anything anyone wants to test in industry.

So that option is really not in the running if I want to do the one part of science I really like, which is actually the most creative part for me.

It could be argued that figuring out how to best present your work and persuade your audience of even controversial points also requires a lot of creativity, but thus far I still struggle with that and have not learned to love it.

Sometimes I really do wish there were think tanks in my field, where people could sit around identifying longstanding problems, or old problems that need to be revisited with new technology. Then these people would write up what they think the salient questions are and publish reports other people (with fewer ideas, more patience for tedium, and better political connections in academia) would refer to for research guidance.

The people in the think tank could do it in groups, or they could each have their own private tank, or do some of both. But I think I have most of my best ideas when I'm alone.

But doesn't that sound like fun? It's the ultimate ivory tower!

(I'll let down my hair so they can send up baskets of protein bars and energy drinks. It'll be great, I promise.)

Anyway my point is, I'm still devoted to Sartre. Science, by itself, would be great if I could do it in my kitchen. But research science is expensive, so it's corrupt and we have to share everything with everybody.

Hell is still, as we already knew, other people.

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