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Walking the Earth

Sun 4 Sep 2016 by mskala Tags used: , , ,

Vincent: So if you're quitting the life, what'll you do?

Jules: That's what I've been sitting here contemplating. First, I'm gonna deliver this case to Marsellus. Then, basically, I'm gonna walk the earth.

- Pulp Fiction

My last day of paid academic work for a long time, probably forever, was last Wednesday. I took a couple of days off for stress recovery, and then it was the weekend, but starting more or less now, I'm working on my next steps.

I have my apartment here in Copenhagen through the end of this month. My plan is to spend most of the month getting everything cleaned up and packed up, dealing with the paperwork for leaving the country, and so on. In October I'll spend a short time visiting some friends in Sweden, then fly to Canada, have some time in the GTA during which I hope to finalize my longer-time living arrangements, and then go to Japan for SISAP 2016 at the end of the month, where I'm presenting a paper on bit vector search. This won't necessarily be my last academic paper because I still have a couple of journal papers in the submission process, but it may well be the last conference I attend as an academic.

Assuming all goes well with the housing search, I'll be in my next long-term location starting in November. Having the address is a critical thing because I need it to arrange stuff like shipping the personal effects I left in storage in Winnipeg, delivery of things like circuit boards from Shenzhen for assembly into my synthesizer products, and so on.

I recently read an article aimed at corporate HR departments about employee retention, and it was paywalled and most of what it said was stupid, so I won't offer a link; but it made one important point I thought worth talking about. The question was, under what circumstances do people quit jobs? And the observation was that it's often precipitated by specific events in the person's personal life. Round-number birthdays are a big "risk" factor from the point of the view of HR departments (note I just turned 40); so are high school reunions. These are occasions when someone will look at their life and compare it with their idea of where they ought to be at this point, the career trajectories of people they consider peers, and so on. If there's a mismatch between reality and whatever standard they have in mind, they'll be thinking about making some changes.

It's a little different for academics who (at my level, anyway...) are on fixed-term temporary contracts and forced to search for a new job at the end of each one. There's no strong reason to expect the next job to be at the same institution at all, so no question of whether to stay there. There's no real issue of "quitting"; the decision is whether to continue jumping back into the crab bucket, and an employer seldom has the opportunity to "retain" an employee, whether they might want to or not. Retention becomes a property of the system as a whole rather than an individual employer. But up to the differences between the academic and corporate worlds it was pretty much the "comparing life against what it ought to be" story for me.

If I stayed in "the life" I could maybe hope to stay at my current level; but even advancing just one step seemed to be out of reach now and maybe permanently, and for things to really be made right for me would require much more than that. I'd have to not only get several promotions all at once but also be compensated somehow for not having already had those years ago. Nobody in "the life" is able to offer me anything like that. So the decision is clear. But I still don't feel good about it on balance, even if I can find a number of things I'm glad to leave behind and a number of things I'm glad I'll be able to have in my next few steps of walking the Earth.

In my previous posting I mentioned that I might do some live video streams. I've recorded a few of those now and they seem to have come out pretty well; I encourage you to go take a look. I plan to do more and try to make that a big part of my corporate outreach or advertising, but I probably won't be able to set up a regular schedule until November.


Karl Zaryski
Hopefully the long term plan works out for you. But anyway, I'm here because apparently Google finds out from you how much paper weighs:


(I'm sending a multi-page response letter to the tax people, trying to see how much it'll cost to ship...)
Karl Zaryski - 2016-09-11 20:25
Graham Parker
Have you thought about a government position? A lot of (well paying) jobs require at least a Masters and some Phd's, just to qualify. Taking a non-academic job does not have to mean the end of all academic work either; it could just be a break until you find your new direction.
Graham Parker - 2016-09-17 21:12
Graham! Nice to hear from you. It's been years, hasn't it?

Government is one of the many directions I've pondered, and considerably more appealing now that we've got the Federal Conservatives out of office. But for any job to attract me I'd have to have a very clear idea of what problem it solves for me, and money isn't high on the list of good answers to that question.
Matt - 2016-09-21 02:56

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