Monday, January 22, 2007

The Moldy Carrot

Folks may not be aware that I'm currently on week three of physical therapy for a shoulder injury that I've been carrying around for about a decade. My New Year's resolution is to get it back to health. My therapist originally diagnosed it as two rotator cuff muscle injuries, but today she said, "Let me try something." She mooshed around the shoulder joint a bit and said, "There, does that hurt?"


Turns out, I have three, THREE, muscle injuries, ah ah. The therapy has been slow going, and I've been incredibly grumpy these past few days from my achy shoulder. Still, I did carry this injury around for ten years, so it's quite clear I have a high threshold for pain.

so that's not the only reason you are grumpy?

Gee. What insight.

I've been trying to figure out ways to work more productively. I recently read the book, "How to Organize and Your Work and Your Life." Overall, the book is okay, and can be scanned in one sitting. The exercises at the beginning, however, are really what motivate the reader to hurry up and get organized. In one such exercise, the reader is asked to write down everything she wants to accomplish in her life. Here's my list, in the order that the goals popped into my head:
live abroad; visit to New York; see the Atlantic; attend an Indian wedding; meet Nancy Leveson; graduate; obtain tenure; publish a novel; help my parents improve financially; backpack in New Zealand; have a happy, fulfilling partnership; donate a large sum of money to a good cause; work somewhere with a critical-mass of women and underrepresented minorities; bake a Pastel de Tres Leches; visit Mexico; live in a 'green' house; live in a big city; return to Tokyo; 'perform' in front of a large audience; bike a large distance; foster a child; hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail; do 5 pull-ups; like myself and my body; learn to ride a motorcycle.

Hm. Nowhere on this list do I see, "Win Best Paper Award" or "Write Outstanding Thesis" or "Work at Top-10 University."

I recently visited a fellow academic diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. She's gone bald from the chemo, and is facing her upcoming surgery. I asked her what she does during the day, and she replied, "I spend time with my son. I don't care about papers or proposals anymore." She also reports that her old colleagues have all been rather cold. Just like Penelope Leech in Status Anxiety, her view of work has changed dramatically. No longer is it a source of fulfillment, but rather a task in which one does as little as possible in order to do the things one really wants.

Lately, I've been wrestling with my own career path. Cutsy teaching school or top 10 university. Unlike many of my fellow grad students, I don't get much fulfillment out of the work that I do. To me, it's just work. There are days that I have to trick myself into being even vaguely interested in Kalman Filters or NSF.

All the cards are before me. The list of life goals, how moved I was by my fellow acadmic spending time with her son, and my ambivalence towards things computer science. One might think that would put me in a good mood. I'm a planner, and I derive joy in knowing the next step. But I still have a ways to go in the PhD. "10 papers in three years" says the advisor.

What the organizing book seems to presume is that completing individual tasks and acheiving particular goals will fuel one's energy towards more tasks and more goals. But it seems there are some other, underlying carrots as well. Do a good job on the report, and the boss gives you a raise. Finish the review on time, and you'll be in line for the next promotion. The PhD offers very few carrots such as this. For me, it's been the same carrot that it's been for the past five years.


I don't get raises. I don't get promotions. It's just the same shit year after year. Admittedly, the carrot is getting moldy, and I am really having trouble even wanting the carrot anymore.

And so, all that there is why I'm grumpy.

For now, I will go and enjoy the Posole I made for dinner, and try to focus on the joy of the moment.


A+ said...

Are you me as a computer scientist?? I want to do all but 3 things on your Life's to do list.

I agree, in the big picture this PhD is a just a fragment - but for now it seems like an elephant. In this moment it is a huge elephant sitting on top of me and I can't breathe!

I love your posts. Blog on sista.

A+ said...

Okay I just counted again, all but 6 things. But that is still pretty good.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Glad you are enjoying it. Based on the list, and the fact we've both been at it for five years, I guess I am about 80% "you as a computer scientitst." Heh.

shannon said...

moldy carrots go really well with liquified lettuce.

Matthew said...

That's basically why I quit. Getting a tenure position just didn't seem very important any more.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Shanny: Liquified lettuce? Ew.

Matthew: Really, I would quit, except that I'm a fantastic teacher and I'll love that part of being a professor.

Dr. O. It *is* hard. That's about all anyone can say. I appreciate your well-wishes.

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