Saturday, January 06, 2007

Riding the wave of chaos.

Today I read a stack of papers (most of them interesting) and some grocery shopping.

That probably doesn't sound very chaotic, but I promise you, the grocery store was really crowded.

Tonight I am going to a party, which I'm sure will be chaotic.

I am going to cook dinner shortly (will take an hour to incubate on stove) and then do some more reading before I leave.

We tried to watch the pilot of The L word on DVD from Netflix... ugh. Too much like a gay, humorless version Desperate Housewives, with no substantial writing or characters we could much care about. Maybe it's just the wrong time in my life, but the straight character is too young and the dysfunctional couple is too baby-aholic.

Not particularly looking forward to the party, but hopefully it will be good for me to get out and be social.


Or something.

I hate winter because it is so cold. Makes me want to do as little as possible, under as many blankets and sweaters as possible.

And all the other stuff I want to blog about, I can't.

Suffice it to say that things are changing at work, and I think it will consist mostly of continually escalating chaos.

I am trying to be the calm little center of peace while it all swirls around me, but some days it's tough to put up walls and say emphatically,


or, my personal favorite:


And, I'm feeling continuing pressure to do things I'm not interested in doing, on a schedule I hate, which is screwing up my schedule not just at work but also at home. So it's putting pressure on my personal life, which is not helping anything.

Lots of yelling at home = using up energy and patience I don't have because of work, or for work. It's a vicious cycle.

We don't mean to be stressed out at each other, we just are.

I would so very much like to get out of this cycle, but right now I don't know what's going to happen so I'm just kind of clinging onto the rollercoaster by my fingernails. I guess I will know soon enough if I'll be screaming with excitement (not likely) or if it's going to make me throw up (probably) or if I'll just fall out of my seat and crack my head open on the way down (always a possibility).

Had an interesting chat with a friend last week about something that I now realize is commonly referred to as 'existential anxiety.'

She was saying that she can't picture her life in the future, so she has this irrational fear that what she's seeing is a prophesy of her death happening sometime soon. She realizes this is silly, but I knew what she meant. I told her I never pictured myself doing what I'm doing now, and I still can't picture where I'll be next year.

I have another friend who said this to me, how the thing that bothers him most about being 30ish and in academia is that lack of knowing where he'll be next year, much less 5 years from now.

What I find most astounding is that most scientists don't seem to realize that this constant feeling of free-floating anxiety is actually bad for creativity and analytical thought (or so is my impression).

Wouldn't fixing the system improve all our productivity and cure, you know, lots of human diseases a whole lot faster?

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At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, it wouldn't, because only those who are struggling to find positions feel this anxiety, there are some "anointed ones" who fly through and have never worried about it. They were just as naive in the beginning, it's just that they never had experiences to make them question their view of their future success and the state of the field.

You have to accept the fact that the market is saturated, and no matter how you think it should be, it is as it is. It will not change. You have to change. Fixing the system will not help it be more productive, there are so many people in it, we can afford to have people working below their potential. It would help it be more efficient, but that doesn't matter, as you can see there is plenty of money which supported so many people and created the problem.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Wow, and I thought I was bitter and cynical!

I don't understand the last sentence of your comment. It doesn't matter if the system were more efficient, if there is plenty of money or there was before but isn't now...?

I also wonder, since you posted anonymously, if you are
a) also a bitter postdoc
b) already out of academia and feeling superior that it was a good choice for you
c) a PI
d) none of the above?

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter that the system is inefficient, because there is plenty of money, so results are coming out even if it is inefficient. When money becomes scarce, it may become more efficient.

I was a), and now almost b), I should start working in the summer. I wish I could say "without feeling superior", but the more I see the sacrifices those in academia are making (although I am in a different field than you), the more respect I lose for those sticking with it. For some reason it irks me, probably because I was there, and that attitude of "don't give up" made it harder to leave than it should be. If the "sticking it out" attitude were brave and courageous, I would have respect for it, but I know that it comes out of cowardice, a lack of imagination, and an unrealistic sense of their own chances at employment, which makes me question their intellect. It's surprising how many people think they will be among the 25% to find permanent employment, and are willing to wait until 35-40 to get it. Recently I realized that I do not respect this choice.

Being anonymous allows me to say things so frankly in this type of forum, because I have not yet officially left. But if you were my friend I would tell you exactly these things. And I'm sure it wouldn't help, this is what I'm finding out. I used to think if only we had known at the beginning, we could have changed paths. But now I think the vast majority would walk this way again, no matter what you tell them. So maybe they deserve it?

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it's funny that you think I'm bitter and cynical! That was just reality I was describing:). You can't change the nature of the current scientific enterprise, but life doesn't have to be that way, you can find a career that will be more globally satisfying than your current one. I encourage you to look for it.

At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do not believe that we have too many scientists. I believe we have (a) too many people who believe academia is the prize, and all other jobs are a sign of failure, and (b) too many people specialized in the "wrong" areas, usually things their advisors found fascinating half a career ago.

The oil & gas industry is always looking for more good people and sees a shortage of talent, &c.

Academia promotes inbred neurotic behaviors. Government does, too. Both are fine callings and have perqs for working there, but as soon as you hit a state where it is hard to fire people things tend to go downhill.

Thank you for allowing anonymous posting. For what it's worth, I am a 35-year-old married woman getting a PhD in a science related field. I am not the same as the prior anon poster; it's my first time here. While I am grateful to be at one of the very top schools for my field, I cannot imagine ever being offered an academic job. I might enjoy teaching a class at night while holding a full-time job. But I think I would find academia a waste of my life to be so far away from the action in my field. Right now, the interesting things are happening outside of the labs. If that switches, I'll rethink. For me it's all about being near the quick minds, the fast changes, and finding ways to make them work for people in practice. I find academia tends to be more about explaining what someone else did, rather than bringing improvements to people's lives. I am sure this varies a lot by field -- my cousin does physics, and there is no place for him but a university.


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