I can't believe it's 11:25 am on a Saturday, and I'm already pissed off at the department today.
Okay. Let's back up.
I attend panels. I don't know why, because 90% of the time, the panels I've attended are less than mediocre. They are generally made up of four people with the exact same perspective. They are all the same because whomever was given the task of organizing the panel did so at the last minute. Moreover, the panel moderator doesn't moderate, and instead talks more than the panelists themselves. The result is a panel that answers 3 questions in 1 hour, and thanks for coming folks!
There have been one or two panels that have been really valuable. The panelists were caring, informed people with good ideas, and the panel was well-moderated. Maybe that's why I keep going. It's like the time I did a really awesome flip-turn in the pool. I keep trying to do flip turns, thinking back to that awesome one, but I usually just get water up my nose, and push myself into the floor of the pool.
I'll be honest. My perfect panel would consist of multiple clones of myself that had made very different life choices and gone forward in time to live out the next 10 years of their lives. For the panel, they return from year 2017 to report back to me what they'd seen. I'd ask questions like,
"So, "fcsgs B," who decided to get married but stay childless. You now work at Carnegie Mellon. How are things for you? You published 10 papers this year? Wow! But, do you have enough time to do the things you want, like practice yoga and write your novel? Do you regret not having kids?"
"And you, "fcsgs A," who quit school, had two children by 36, and started a successful chain of self-serve dog washes in Seattle. Do you feel intellectually fulfilled? How do your children feel about your upcoming divorce?"
"How about you, "fcsgs C?" You are still single. You haven't published in two years because of all your teaching responsibilities at University of Portland. Are you hopeful that your sporadic research will make an impact on the field? Is it important to you to make such an impact? Did your shoulder ever get better?"
And for some reason, Alan Young of the original Time Machine would be there as moderator, entertaining us with his Scrooge McDuck voice acting.
Okay, I didn't say "ideal" was at all "realistic," so I keeping attending the panels of this world, hoping to catch a glimpse of my own future clones. I haven't found them yet. It's been a little wearying, really, not having anyone that I can talk to about this. It doesn't even have to be a clone. I'm just searching for someone with an open mind. Someone who doesn't want me to be just like them. For most people here, students and faculty, any mention of not applying to the Top 10 is received with scoffing. "Why wouldn't you?" Or, "At a small school, you'd be teaching all the time, you don't want that."
In an effort to have a real conversation about this, I got a membership at MentorNet. It's a website bringing together people who are looking for mentors with people who would like to be mentors. I decided to be more proactive in looking for this magical person I've described. I decided to find that human being interested in mentoring, one who would give me advice about the small school vs. big school issue. A person who'd been through something other than working like a dog and making sweet love to the University of GradShitTownVille.
At MentorNet, members can configure their profile, including setting preferences for a mentor. The preferences are things like,
Field of Study
Work Sector (e.g., private, government, university)
My only preferences were "[Computer Science or Computer Engineering or Electrical Engineering] + PhD + University." And MentorNet reported,
Unfortunately, there are no mentors that match with your preferences at this time.
Sigh. In fact, the only PhD's in MentorNet in my preferred field of study, are these five people that all work at Texas Instruments. I appreciate that they've volunteered, but I don't need to talk about industry, thank you.
Here at University of GradShitTownVille, there's been a lot of attention lately paid to graduate students getting academic jobs at the top schools. Perhaps by "attention" I should say "propaganda," which is honestly getting quite old. Recently, a "club" was started for students interested in academic jobs. I inquired with the club president that perhaps a panel would be of value. Perhaps a panel of people who could candidly discuss the pros and cons of working at the small liberal arts school versus the Big Top 10 University. The question was essentially ignored, translated into this defensive "Why not work at top 10?"
To these people, when I ask questions like that, I may as well ask, "Explain to me the benefits of breathing in and out, versus not breathing at all."
And so, with telling the boyfriend that whole story, comes that quote,