It is interesting how, sometimes, you can get so busy that you can’t concentrate on anything every well. At some point, you have so many things on your plate that nothing can get done. You turn to to-do lists, but still, the interruptions, e-mail, people knocking on your office door, the telephone, all serve to fragment your time to the point in which your switching algorithms in your brain overload. It seems like this is my constant state now. I have been traveling so much, always preparing for the next meeting, and trying to just keep up with the random sh*t that seems to constantly appear.
Example – We have a recruitment event in our department every spring. I helped organize it two years ago. I did such a good job, I was asked to do it again last year. I said no. Fantastic. This year, I get an e-mail two days before the event, saying that the department chair couldn’t make the event, and so could I come and give his talk (welcome to our glorious depart… we do lots of great/fun/entertaining things… if you come here, it is guaranteed that you will be a millionaire when you graduate… etc). I reluctantly agree and add it to my calendar. The day comes, and I show up to give a little speech. Who is there? The department chair. WTF, I say, why are you here? To watch. WTF? WTF? WTF? Come on. Then the next day, he tells two administrative assistants to light a fire under me to take my white boards out of the meeting room, since they have been sitting there for a while (I have 24 hours, or ~something~ is going to happen). While I am trying to prepare for a week long meeting that he is forcing me to go to (where I am presenting about 5 talks). It can’t wait? He is not even going to be there, since he is preparing for the same meeting. WTF?
Another Example – It is time to pick graduate students. I have actually only actively chosen two graduate students in my life. Both of who happen to be women from China. I basically picked the students with the best grades and GRE score. These happen to be women. From China. I am sorry. On the other hand, I have “inherited” graduate students from others. My other student (American male) came to me because the guy that he was working with was not working out. So, I took him on. He is a great student. And he is going to graduate very soon. I am sort of a strong believer in diversity. And, the sad thing is that diversity, in this case, means that I need to replace him with another American (male or female – it doesn’t matter to me.) Indeed, if you count the people in the lab where my students work, there are 4 people of Asian decent and 2 Americans. So, I look through the pool of applicants for Americans. I choose the top couple that have the highest grades and GRE scores and send them e-mails asking about whether they would be interested in working with some old crotchety bastard who happens to do magnetospheric modeling. All of the e-mails come back with something like “can you provide more details on what, specifically, I would be working on” and “I am not admitted yet, so I can’t say whether I am coming to UM.” To the first, I reply “Modeling. The magnetosphere. Magnetospheric physics.” (but more eloquently). To the second, I explain how they need to pair up with an advisor, who will be the one who actually gives them the nod whether they will be admitted or not. More e-mails. More questions. And not right away. They are spaced by a day or two. Come on. Do you want to come to graduate school or no? Quit pussy-footing around and make up your mind. One guy comes back with “I am starting an internship with someone in a few weeks, and after I figure out whether I like what I am doing there, I will let you know.” To which, my only response is “well, I am making a choice now. So, have a nice life.” So, what was my point? I have to spend tons of (fragmented) time dealing with these people, trying to convince them that this place is a glorious Mecca where all of their dreams will come true. Please, let me stroke your ego so you can just go somewhere else after jerking me around for a few weeks. I gotta say, this pisses me off like you would not believe. If you want to go somewhere else, where you won’t get nearly as good of an education or research experience, go ahead. Just stop wasting my time.
I genuinely enjoy dealing with students; graduate students and undergraduate students, both. Especially in a learning environment, in which I can spark imagination in them, or help them accomplish some goal that they would not have been able to accomplish on their own. It is a joy to me. Except when I help too many students. Or am asked to do too much. Then, some invisible line gets crossed, and I no longer enjoy it. And it is not like I enjoy 80% of it, and the other 20% is what pisses me off – it ends up being all of it. Once the line is cross, and the switching in my head starts to malfunction, I don’t enjoy any of it. I despise all aspects of my job. This then creeps into my home life, and I end up despising all of the little requests that my wife and kids make. That just kills me.
I watched the Incredible Hulk the other day (trapped on an airplane – I am writing this trapped on an airplane also). When his heart rate went above 200 BPM, he turned green and angry. That is how I feel when I have something like 20 things on my to-do list. Angry. Very, very angry. Interestingly, I actually get a physical symptom of this too – my eyes start to twitch. What is next - green rashes on my skin?
The thing that I have to try to do is to figure out how to not put things on my to-do list. How can I say no to the assistant who asks if I can talk for the department chair? “No!” But, at the same time, how can you not find a new graduate student? How can you avoid all the crap that comes along with recruiting? I guess I should think about it a little bit and be more intelligent about how I approach the subject. Maybe I make sure that my group web-site is up-to-date, and I tell them to go look at my web-site. If they like what they see, say yes. If they don’t, then fine. I somehow have to be smarter about this whole thing.
The problem, right now, is I can’t think. I can’t form coherent thoughts in my head because I am torn in 50 different directions. How can you catch up and be smart about it all at the same time?
So, instead of working on one of my talks that I have to give in 48 hours (of which, I have accomplished nothing), I am writing in my blog and reading a book. I feel guilty about this, but I just physically can’t work anymore. A breaker has been thrown.
2 months ago