finding my way

I realize, both from external input and from experience, that I won’t be able to get readers without a personal brand, which as you may recall is “a promise made and kept”. And one very important part of that promise is to post content regularly, instead of just whenever I feel like it. (There are some webcomic artists who seem to flout this rule and still have a readership and a high-quality product, but the vast majority of the sites I like update regularly, and have a buffer to prevent interruptions of content.) So let’s try this: I hereby make it my goal to post at least twice a week, let’s say by Wednesday evening and by Sunday afternoon, Sydney time. To make it easier on myself I’ll write for no more than half an hour at a time; that should keep my perfectionistic tendencies under control. Surely I can manage an hour a week.

Of course, another very important part of the promise is to have something worth reading, preferably something that fills a niche in the blogosphere. I don’t think I’ve really found that niche yet, but maybe posting stuff on a regular basis will help. In fact, there are times I think I haven’t really found my niche in general — that truly unique contribution which nobody but me can give the world. I’m having some frustrating times here, as I often do.

One of the major goals to which Brian and I agreed when I moved down here was for me to publish three papers a year. This seemed quite achievable to me at the time we set it. So far I’ve been down here about a year and a half, so assuming publication at the average rate, I should have four papers accepted and one in prep by now. As it stands, I have one submitted, and when the referee report came back on that one it seemed as though the referee wanted me to write a completely different paper. And I spent a lot of time developing tools to write that paper instead of the paper we thought we were writing in the first place…

In my defense, I’ve never received a less-than-glowing referee report, so I don’t have much experience dealing with them. My other first-author papers sailed through review… both of them. Aye, there’s the rub.

Oh, and the SkyMapper supernova search still isn’t quite running. I can’t help but feel responsible for that, since according to my job description, I am responsible for it. It’s close, but it’s like one more tension-producing thing stretching my efforts too thin. Doing a lot of observing shifts with SkyMapper lately, each laced with its own special blend of head-banging frustration, hasn’t exactly helped.

Clearly there’s something I’m not quite doing right here. I’m planning on having a chat with Brian sometime next week to see how I can improve. Time management? Project planning? Good judgment about which problems to pick? Self-confidence? Saying no? Knowing when perfectionism is getting in the way? I’ll probably write about each of these things in turn as I go over them.

The thing is that after a certain point, I think it was after postdoc #1 for me, I stopped just going through the pipeline and started to realize how very open-ended everything is. I’m not bad at doing science. There are plenty of people better at doing science than I am. Should I keep doing it, or stop and do something else? Apart from getting kicked out of the profession (the “perish” option), I can’t think of any clear-cut way to answer that question. This is true not just of professional decisions, but of the smallest decision one makes about how to spend my time, or present myself to others, or approach difficulties. Each timeline necessarily attracts some cloud of counterfactuals: what if I’d accomplished X, moved to Y, tried out Z? And part of living in the world is, I think, being okay with that: not just the uncertainty of what the future holds, but the knowledge — the certainty — that while I can make different choices now, I’ll have to live with the accumulated momentum of those choices in the future, and I’ll have to be okay with the fact that I could have made other choices, and didn’t.

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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