Monday, May 25, 2009

I'll pass.

I remember it vividly. Soft lights glowed in the background so the herd of students could see the display screens. I was seated in a corner, efficiently running equipment in the background, while Advisor offered some simple remarks for a friend’s class.

“Some people can identify methods with a simple glance,” said friend noted, smiling at Advisor flirtatiously. He grinned in return, nodded modestly and offered the name of the technique.

I turned my head, ponytail swinging, and blinked at him and felt my mouth drop open in surprise. It was a unique method – one nearly anyone in the field could have identified with a glance. And he’d gotten it wrong. He wasn’t even close.

While he was doubtless distracted and it was a rather irrelevant moment in an equally meaningless demonstration, I was nonetheless shocked. And, after that moment in my second year of graduate study, I noticed more and more clues that the guy had very little idea as to what the hell was going on. Which simultaneously disappointed and encouraged me. If he could be a professor then I’d have no problem with the same career choice.

Hard as Industry is – much as I struggle with politics and decision processes, workload and demands – I’ve never considered going back into academia. When one of my figures got the journal cover. Upon being asked to contribute a chapter to another textbook. Attending major scientific conferences. Interacting with faculty who knew exactly what they were doing, all of it rather brilliant. Appreciating the translation of academic research into clinical practice and the power therein.

“Having fun?” one of my superiors asked one day, walking by as I was filling my water bottle.

“Now?” I asked, turning to smile. “Or in general?”

“The latter,” he replied, taking a couple of steps closer and pausing before me while I nodded. “Don’t want to go back?”

“Oh, no.” I shook my head firmly in denial, familiar with the question of whether I missed my former life. “Not at all. Not ever.”

Distance usually offers perspective though. And as I approach the one-year mark of abandoning the pursuit of a faculty position for a spot within the corporate structure, it seems there would be some pieces I’d miss.

“Hello!” I turned, face transforming into my happiest of expressions after I saw who’d called my name from the edge of the corridor. “I didn’t know you were coming!” I chirped as I hurried toward Smarter, reaching to embrace him. “It’s so good to see you! How are you? Is everything wonderful?”

“I’m fine,” he replied, grinning at me in what I choose to believe was fondness. We chatted for a moment, exchanging gossip involving our fellow students from grad school. I invited him for dinner while I was in town, went on tip-toe to kiss his cheek and waved before scampering away with a new colleague.

“That’s Smarter,” I told one of my favorite Industry friends as we walked together to get breakfast. “He’s one of the most brilliant men I know. Got tenure over a year ago. Big lab, well funded, relevant research. He’s the type that does well in that environment. I was never going to be that good.”

A couple of days later, he stopped by our little area of the exhibition hall. I had been talking to people, drawing pictures by waving my hands in the air to explain some concept or another. I paused mid-spectrum to wave to him before returning to my explanation of which peak was which.

“Hey,” I finally said upon escaping that impromptu demonstration and moving toward him. “You look tired,” I decided, frowning with concern as I got closer.

“I’ve been writing,” he told me. “I have a couple of grants that I want to submit and I need to be doing at least 5,000 words a day if I can meet deadlines.”

“Oh,” I offered sympathetically, patting his arm. I shrugged when he asked if I’d enjoyed the meeting. “It’s actually been lovely,” I confided a moment later and happily elaborated for a moment.

“Great,” he said, stifling a yawn and making me grin in response. “I’m glad you’re happy.”

“So what’s with all the writing? I thought you were set with money.”

“It doesn’t last,” he replied, shaking his head. “I’m fine for now but I have students to support, more project we should be doing. I always need more, feel this pressure to be thinking and writing.”

“Stop,” I scolded him gently. “You’re brilliant. You have it covered.”

“Even if I am, it doesn’t matter. It’s who you know and what’s deemed important for funding and how helpful collaborators decide to be.”

He declined my offer to join us for dinner and drinks that evening and walked away. I watched, tugging distractedly at the sleeve of my jacket, and bit my lip as I noticed his shoulders were slumped and stride slow.

"Still don't miss it?" the same colleague asked, having overheard our discussion as the area quieted.

"No," I turned away from Smarter's departure and toward my new friends. "Not even a little bit."

1 comment:

Amelie said...

I'm glad that you have found a job you're happy with -- but I'm also a little sad for Smarter.

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