As of Monday, I will be living up to my official title at Caltech. I tried to quit grad school a couple of weeks ago. In response to Bob’s email: “Please let me know that you’re not dead.”, I replied: “I’m not dead, but apparently, I don’t want a Ph.D. either”. Today was to be my last day, with figures cleaned up for the Wahr et al. 2008 stress paper, and helpful outlines of future research projects written for my academic successors.
How did I feel about this? Well, continuing as I was certainly wasn’t working. And it’d failed to work in the past. The crazy thing, as Einstein said, was doing the same thing, and expecting something different to happen. But the other alternatives weren’t obvious. Interviewing at eSolar, or First Quadrant certainly looked attractive. And so did creating an open bike map wiki on my own. And going biking, and backpacking, and working in the garden a bit more than I otherwise would have over the summer. Getting out of the academic environment for sure. Easier said than done. It is a warped kind of community, transient and ambitious, filled with hierarchy and guilt and wonder too. And like all durable communities, self-reinforcing.
But it was also a little sad. I’d really just kind of crossed some cusp. Going on and stopping became about equally valued. I’d consciously prevented myself from creating alternatives, to try and get myself to finish, and so there were no alternatives immediately accessible, and that was okay. But then an alternative arose: Oded came in, having heard that I was leaving, and wanted talk about my research, at the Ath, with a pitcher of mojitos (which were very tasty). I do like the ideas that I own, and having someone want to hear them is enjoyable, especially if they like the ideas. Oded did, and suggested that maybe it would be helpful if I got some advising from him. On a regular basis, from across the hall.
This, at the very least, is doing something different. So at least it has a chance of working.
Bob, rightfully skeptical, suggested that maybe the paychecks could still expire this week, and resume when there was some concrete piece of progress. A thesis chapter or a first paper draft for the global lineament comparison.
I’m curious to see how both of these changes affects me. A direct financial incentive (more stick than carrot though), and a more intimately participatory adviser. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to deconvolve the two influences in a few weeks…