Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unavailable=attractive: the latest lessons

I'm browsing through the job ads today, and run across a different postdoc in a department where I already interviewed this year. Interviewing at the department, I saw all kinds of disadvantages. Seeing it in a job listing, it seems so attractive!

By coincidence, I was browsing through an online dating site earlier today, and ran across a really well-written profile: smart, thoughtful, and even in poetry. I read it carefully and squinted at the pictures, and it turns out this is the guy who comes up to me at parties, tipsy, and tries to get way too close.

Too bad they don't write postdoc job ads in poetry!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Excuses, excuses

I applied for a postdoc with several sites. I got an interview for site A which I was told was for half a day, but a few days before leaving I found out it was just over an hour long; and a week later for site B. I can't imagine taking site A even over my current job. Making contacts at site A is probably useful, and when I like someone I'm good at making contacts. Unfortunately, I'm so transparent that when I am not interested, it shows through so in this case I won't make any contacts unless I pick up acting ability.

What's a better excuse?
* I can't get away from work. (Obviously I could if I wanted to.)
* I think the other site is a better match.
* I can't take a day away from work for an interview which may not be long enough to give me a sense of whether it's a good match.

The latter two are snotty, so probably the only thing that I can do is claim helplessness.

The reason that I have delayed canceling is because I could of course just suck it up and take the day to go. I could take acting lessons and really learn to look interested. And maybe it would be worth it. I've wasted days before, and what is one more wasted day? And yet, I feel like if I go, that will waste the entire week since I'm traveling at the end of the week too.

The ideal case would be if I had two skills which would help me anyway:
* Not to get phased by travel and disruption.
* Acting ability to seem interested when I'm not.

Unlikely to develop them, so helplessness in the face of work, it is!

Another dating disappointment

After getting back from a recent conference, I felt wiped out from all the travel, but pushed myself out to a party.  

Within five minutes of my arrival, an attractive guy attached himself to me.  He turned out to be smart, thoughtful, and adventurous, and we spoke for the rest of the evening, oblivious to others.  Even when I got up to go to the bathroom, he would be waiting for me. Within 2 hours, he asked me what I thought of love at first sight, and we spoke about our past dating and relationship experiences. He was in his mid-20’s, 5 years younger than I, but I answered his questions about my life chronology imprecisely and he didn’t push. He changed his plans to walk me home, and I had him up for a cup of tea since it was a cold night.  We parted on warm terms (no physical contact at all), anticipating the next day when we were going to the same event.

For 12 hours, I was on a high from the magical experience of connection with an apparently wonderful person.  At the event, we exchanged brief greetings, and he didn’t give me a second look.  During the socializing part of the event, he was circulating and then with I'm guessing a female friend. I guess that he googled me, found out my college graduation date, and lost interest. I felt completely devastated to have gone from being the object of someone’s rapt attention for 5 hours to being ignored completely.

I sent him an email addressing the situation directly, and that I hoped we could be friends in any case, and he wrote back simply that he enjoyed having met me too: i.e., he would not even be friends with me since I was 5 years older.

This happened to me once before:  last spring, a guy 7 years younger chatted me up, and attached himself to me.  I didn’t like him so much, but figured I would give him a chance, and we spoke for 10 minutes until he found out my age.  He flinched, spent 5 minutes in awkward conversation as if to prove that he wasn’t running away from my age, and then ran away.  

This time was far worse:  from the 4+ hours of conversation, it was clear that we liked each other well enough for several dates, at least, and I lost this for my age, and for no other reason. I've gotten over it by now, but it still stings a bit.

Why travel is disruptive (boring)

I find travel to be incredibly disruptive to my schedule and productivity, and have been trying to figure out why. I've come up with a few ideas. I am guessing this will be a boring post, so feel free to skip it.

1. Travel disrupts habits, so that I start thinking about things that I do every day, and usually end up delaying things and sometimes not doing them at all. Delaying things makes me more reluctant to do them.

2. Travel is exhausting, both from emotional energy in interviewing, and physical exhaustion from lack of sleep, lack of exercise, or unfamiliar food. When I'm tired, I am more sluggish and again, delay things or don't do them at all.

3. Travel lets me build up a whole backlog of non-work, such as email and newspapers to read. I don't like backlogs of anything, and these backlogs are easier to clear up than my actual work. (An interesting assumption behind that: my actual work will never be done, but I can succeed in clearing my inbox.)

4. Travel often makes me more interested in my work, but also reminds me of how behind I am, and the backlog of work seems more daunting, so spurs more procrastination.

I'm pretty sure that's all. Somehow it feels better now that I have unpacked it: when I feel behind and overwhelmed because of travel, it's nice to know that it's probably for one of the above 4 reasons.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ratio of travel time to face time

I have an interview scheduled next week for a fellowship sponsored by a private foundation. When they called me to inform me that I'd been selected, I was so thrilled that I forgot to get all the scheduling details, just the rough times that I needed to be there. Today, when I called to ask them for my meeting schedule, I found out that I have 1 hour 15 minutes worth of in-person meetings: 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and then a phone interview with a third person. Doing a quick mental calculation, I realized that it would be at least 8 hours of traveling, including security lines, for this 75 minute interview, so I asked that it be converted to a phone interview. They'll pay for my stay in a hotel one night, but that just spreads out the traveling.

It is a big nervey of me to request a phone interview, but on the other hand, who can spend a full day traveling to see people who aren't even willing to give you an hour?

I have another interview for the same fellowship in a different site, and that's a normal full-day interview.

Update: They called me at 8 pm to tell me that they could not do a phone interview, but added an additional 45 minutes to my interview so that I would feel special. I'm going to assume that they won't hold it against me that I asked them for a phone interview.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Moving and organization: the collection agency and the postdoc

Having been in one place for several years, compared with my yearly moving during and after college with an address more than one address per year, I forgot how complicated moving could be.

Consequences of moving come even into January: I just got a letter from a collection agency dated January 2 demanding payment of $36.87. Due to the confluence of some fairly boring circumstances (e.g., travel + not having a good system to keep track of bills + my bank being closed down by the government), I hadn't realized that I hadn't paid to pay my final phone bill. In cases of doubt, I err on the side of overpaying, but since it was my final bill I hadn't done that.

I hope that I don't have to move many more times.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Political correctness in objective fields

As I'm revising my paper --- which got a flat-out rejection after being reviewed by a journal I'd published in before, rather than review and resubmit --- I've noticed some interesting features of the reviewers' critiques. None of the critiques are reasons why I've ever heard of a paper being rejected before.

First, the reviewers agree that my conclusions are too narrowly constructed: i.e., I should make a stronger (!) claim about the implications than I actually did. (The conclusions are narrow because my committee said they should be, and they're the experts in the question, so I defer to their argument. Based on what the reviewers said, it's clear that the reviewers aren't experts and didn't consult experts.) That's easy enough to say in a revise and resubmit especially since the opposite is more frequent.

Second, lots of comments of the sort that would call for a revise and resubmit: clarify this, restructure that, elaborate more on that, move this there, cite these 3 things, why cite X instead of YZW, try Q to see if [small part of] results differ, try the analysis of New Postdoc here because "This seems important." [how flattering!].

Third, attention to something that I've never seen anyone care about: several probing inquiries on my introductory paragraph. Introductory paragraphs, as far as I've learned and seen in the review process, just have to be there, and follow the traditional inverted triangle format.
"Broad topic is extremely important. Slightly narrower topic is no less important and might even be more important.... This paper looks at subtopic of the narrow topic, which has implications for the broad topic and the fate of the universe, or at least my job outlook."
The reviewer's probing inquiries are things like, "what exactly do you mean by 'broad topic'? For example, are you saying that feeding Wonder Bread to mallard ducks will cause them to spontaneously combust? Aren't you aware that so-called cases of spontaneous combustion do not really exist, and just came about from smokers falling asleep with cigarettes in their hands? [or something equally tangential to my paper as a whole]"
While buffing up the lit review following their suggestions, some of the papers that they referred me to on the same broad topic have nearly-identical opening sentences. [There's no issue of plagiarism; everyone writing about X has to find a way to say X is important.] It's a throwaway paragraph, the ideas do not recur anywhere else in my paper, and I am happy to rewrite it in whatever way that they want.

So, why the rejection?

After all the objective facts are considered, there's a judgement call to be made about the research's implications: should we try doing more research in the area, or have we determined that it's as hopeless as cold fusion? The PC view is that more research is useless. I give a concrete proposal for additional research, cite a possibly analogous case with impeccable credentials, and say that my results imply that it doesn't hurt to try this new direction.

This paragraph is the clear crux of the reviewers' objection, though they deal with it carefully. No one can object to the impeccably credentialed cite itself; they could say that it's not an analogous case, but for some reason they don't.

E.g.,this paragraph is "particularly troubling. Again, the author needs to better understand [literature ABC]. There are many reasons [not listed anywhere in the review and covered only tangentially in literature ABC] I and many other respected scientists disagree with the statement [..]."

E.g., "The data appear to support [my objective results], contrary to unjustified but influential claims made previously based on less sophisticated analyses (e.g., cite). In spite of the importance of these conclusions, I have some major reservations about the presentation and interpretation [of the results]. The paper includes numerous statements that are not precisely worded, not properly justified, or not true. A careful editing and where necessary rewriting of the manuscript with this in mind is needed. I mention a few examples below." This reviewer's examples are primarily the probing of the introductory paragraph, spontaneous combustion and all.

Needless to say, I just deleted the paragraph. If I made no other changes, I bet it would have gotten accepted to the journal which just rejected it. I did make most other changes and added in all the cites suggested. I am sure that the paper will now get accepted, but it's a bummer to have to reformat the paper to the requirements of another journal.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Procrastination strategy

A commenter pointed me to an essay on structured procrastination, a method to trick oneself into doing work by prioritizing things which are not really priorities so you can do the really important things.

What I find really terrific is not just the technique, but also the implicit assumption that's there's nothing wrong with having procrastinatory tendencies. Like many women, I ruminate, and sometimes I will wonder if the fact that I procrastinate means that deep down I have some kind of innate fear of work or success or something else, and my head spins at the possibilities. (Procrastination could be internalized sexism, a reaction to being bullied for doing well in high school, an indication that I don't really like myself. But, really, it doesn't matter.)

It's incredibly gratifying to start from the supposition that the urge to procrastinate is not going to change, but to find a strategy which uses the procrastination constructively.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Prohibited questions on postdoc applications

I've submitted a few applications lately for federally-funded postdocs which ask for gender, birthdate, and race right on the coversheet required to accompany the application. One postdoc even has a first stage process where you send in an initial application with the above prohibited questions (two of them helpfully note "optional" right next to them; gender isn't, apparently) before they send you the real application.

These are not the same as the EEOC forms which are sent separately, as they also include dissertation information, advisor, degrees, etc.

Why are they asking these questions? What's the implication of skipping them?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hyperlinked productivity

My work habits often look like the world wide web. This was how part of my day went today:
- I started the day intending only to work on 2 specific research projects, but after some actual work I got distracted with cleaning out my inbox (which started the day at 1000 and is now 700.)
- Find postdoc announcement with reference to an entity.
- Google entity for clues about whether postdoc was suitable, and discover conference I'd meant to register for, being run by someone I interviewed with last month.
- Submit late-breaking abstract based on the just-rejected paper to conference; register for conference.
- Remember professional organization renewal that's been sitting on my desk since September. By chance, the deadline was today. Renew.
- Run across email for another conference to submit to; submit.
- Make a note about yet another conference to submit to.

The general advice is that if you come across a distraction, you should make a note of it and come back to it. By contrast, my random-walk procedure is the exemplar for how work habits are not supposed to look. I encounter useful things randomly, and when I encounter them, I do them all at once. I generally encounter them in time, but if not, I don't do them.

I will need to reduce this pattern to be more productive, but sometimes it works well. This pattern is what led me to apply to my undergraduate study-abroad program. Early one morning during reading period, I checked my email and discovered a study-away program in my (small/rare) major at Penn State. Such an idea had never before occurred to me, but it sounded really nice. I remembered the existence of a similar program (the only other one) in a European country which again I'd never given much thought to. So I went to that website, took a couple of hours to apply for the program despite being after the deadline, and it truly changed my life. If I hadn't been doing this weird random-walk work habit, I wouldn't have stumbled across this program and been open-minded enough to consider it.

It's not uncommon for people to be productive only with things which are not on their "to do" lists. Everyone jokes that the only way that they get something done is by using it as procrastination from an even more difficult task. As soon as something makes it onto a list, perhaps it seems no longer quite as fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ironic success

My first first-author paper was published in the top journal in my field. I submitted my second paper to this same journal, and one of the anonymous reviewers quoted my first paper at me, and said that I should consider this paper's results more strongly.

At least someone read my work, even if they use it against me. And flat-out reject my paper, incidentally.

Now to revise and ask for reviews from a raft of experts before submitting elsewhere.

Formulating a research agenda: the courage to be prominent

Last month, I posted "rules for best research" and I mused about the temptation to choose low-hanging fruit. The low-hanging fruit is a reactive approach: you see what is available, and you choose among it. The "big picture" approach to research sets your own agenda, irrespective of what seems to be available. The question of which type of research to pursue was couched in this essay as if it were an intellectual question, but I contend that it's primarily a psychological issue. A researcher needs not just the mind to pursue the big questions, but also the courage to do so.

I've felt pretty silly writing all my research statements about these low-hanging fruit, but the combination of finishing one of my dissertation papers (which gave me a "big picture view") and the combined experience of many job interviews has made to formulate a big picture research agenda with big questions to answer. The difficult part, of course, is implementation.

As a college student at a top college, there was a big temptation to hide: get the B+ you felt you were going to get no matter how hard you studied, don't stick out, don't do too much of the work or attend class too much, pull ideas out of thin air, and "research" problem set answers by hoping that the problems were done in other textbooks. At different or smaller schools, maybe it's easier to keep high school habits of being the big priss sitting at the front of the class, but with classmates who started a chain of profitable homeless shelters in all major cities at age 12 and won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 13, my friends and I didn't try too hard to gain prominence. In graduate school, if you choose to join the most challenging circles in order to learn the most, you feel like you're just one of many, and others are better than you, so you have no inclination to push yourself into prominence.

Post-graduation, though, it's a different story. In graduate school, it's enough to be one of a group. After graduate school, you need to be distinctive as an individual in order to get a job and the funding necessary to support yourself and your students, and that's a bit scary.

There are many uncharismatic academics, but the most successful ones do have a charisma and self-importance. They're not necessarily arrogant, but they do have presence. It's a chicken-and-egg story: those who were charismatic may have gotten better jobs, while those who got better jobs may have gained confidence and charisma in the jobs, and both are simultaneously true. Everyone is doing excellent work, but the way to select among the many excellent candidates is personality; the ones who exude the most confidence give the search committee the most confidence that they can implement their ideas.

It seems similar in other fields as well. I have a friend who's a writer in Hollywood and has had dozens of almosts: he was represented by a top agency, he's submitted to everything well-known in his genre and gotten positive feedback for his submissions, he's pitched to major studios, he's co-written pilots for major networks, he's won lots of awards, and his writing is simply top-notch. He's an affable guy, and everyone who meets him likes him, and yet he doesn't exude the kind of presence which makes people just love being around him; by contrast, many writers who are successful in Hollywood do have this presence and they're good at networking. People have a preference for working with those that they already know, and that preference comes into play when choosing among people of similar talent. I'm sure some Hollywood writers are successful despite their lack of charisma, but the personality factor is apparently huge. When I was listening to an NPR interview with writers about the WGA strike, I was struck by how smoothly they spoke: they stayed completely on-message, sounded authoritative but not arrogant, their voices were pleasant and smooth, and their radio interview skills were equal to any good politician.

Ironically, it seems like having the qualities that could make someone be popular in high school is what marks the difference between being a successful academic working on important questions and a mid-rank one. Writing the research agenda was not difficult, but having the presence and confidence to implement it will be. It takes a great deal of courage to truly make an effort to become prominent.

I know that this post sounds a bit like one of those clicheed motivational business books, and I certainly don't endorse the genre. I do think that there is a kernel of truth to the idea that it takes a lot of courage to be successful, and one of the first tasks for some new academics is to build up that courage before even setting their research agendas.

Clearing the dating market

When economists say that a market has cleared, they mean that the excess supply and demand has been picked up.

In the past week, the following progress was made towards clearing the data market:

- On my last visit, Gene told me that he had met someone that he thinks he wants to marry. She was dating someone else at the time. Recently, he started dating her. Now that I know who it is, I can say that she's for sure fantastic. Though I have to admit that when I remembered that she is several years younger than Gene and I, it briefly flashed through my head that it's unfair. Yes, fair has nothing to do with his feelings, but there is no shortage of single 23-24 year olds.

- A guy who I met on a internet dating site this summer just got engaged, and another is in a relationship. I didn't go on a date with either one. We just spoke on the phone while I was still living in the old city; mutual indifference combined with travels (they're both academics) led us not to bother actually meeting once I finally moved here.

- The previous relationship, of course.

Only four, but that's in just one week. I don't wish I were dating them. Well, okay, I have slight twinges about Gene, despite my better judgement. I just don't like seeing that the market has continued to shrink.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Balancing academia and personal life: dating

One of the oft-mentioned aspects of the work-life balance in academia is that women start their quest for tenure just as their biological clocks suggest they have children. Tenure committees have adjusted to this reality, gradually: though I found it interesting that when faculty were offered allowance for parental leave, no women took it, just a few men, presumably because women didn't want to be perceive as taking advantage of their gender.

A facet of the work-life balance that people tend not to discuss very much is how dating interacts with academia. Parenthood is clearly all-absorbing, but dating is challenging in its own way. I won't compare the two in terms of difficulty, but I do want to list the challenges of dating while in the early career stages:

1) Dating interferes with the job search

- The two-body problem limits where a couple can go, but dating poses more restrictive limits. The cities where someone who is single, educated, and over 30 has a decent chance of meeting a future spouse are very limited (SF, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, DC/Baltimore, NY, Boston, Philadelphia, have I missed any?), and that's without any extra considerations such as cultural factors which may further limit it. I had a great inquiry this summer from a place in a decent size city where it would be just fine to live if I were married. It's not socially acceptable to say anything about dating, so I just said, "Unfortunately, the geographical constraints are tight this year."

- Dating is time-consuming: simply reading through internet profiles on several websites, writing or replying to innumerable emails, finding events where there might be other singles and attending them, and having a series of 1-2 hour coffee meetings can easily expend 10 hours per week. This time is generally unproductive: you walk away not having gained or learned anything from the experience which will help in the future.

- Dating is unsettling, which is distracting. I don't think it's coincidence that all of last year when I was not in any relationships, I was spinning my wheels unproductively; I finished my dissertation only this year when I got into a 2 month relationship. The beginning and end of relationships always involve loss of sleep and inconsistent concentration.

- Dating and the job search both require "good time". In academia, you learn to invest your bright-eyed bushy-tailed time into the difficult work, and move to the easy stuff when you are tired and incoherent. You can't make a good impression on a job when you are tired and incoherent, however, so you have to divide your good hours between research and the job search, and yet find enough good humor and cheer to bring to dating in the evenings.

- Dating is enough like the job search that it's hard to do both simultaneously: go to a website where you try to find profiles of people or jobs which seem like good matches, reject a few, get rejected a whole bunch, hope that something pans out and fear that nothing will, and try extremely hard not to get demoralized.

2. The job search and academia interferes with dating.

- Frequent travel especially for long periods introduces discontinuities into relationships: I don't know if my most recent relationship would have turned out differently if I hadn't spent 3 weeks away (with only a couple short returns in that interval) after two weeks of fantastic dating; at the very least, we could have figured out sooner that it wasn't a match rather than a month of limbo.

- The feeling of impermanence means that it's difficult to initiate relationships in the last few months of a stay anywhere, and yet too early to start looking in the new place, so that time is generally wasted, and the first month is spent getting set up and oriented and figuring out how to meet new people. Even at the beginning of the year, there's a real cognitive dissonance about applying to jobs while simultaneously cultivating a new relationship.

- Lots of otherwise nice men and women have a chip on their shoulder about education, making it slightly difficult to meet new people. Not a dating anecdote, but before I moved here I was talking with a potential roommate looking for 2 roommates for a 3 bedroom. She asked why we were coming to her city, and I replied that my roommate and I were both postdocs; she was quiet for a moment and then said, "Oh. I just have a BA. I hope that's okay." It's easy to say that she just has something wrong with her, but the conversation had been going great before that; I have seen her around at parties in the neighborhood, we have mutual friends, and she seems like otherwise a great person. Like many people on online dating sites, I screen out native English speakers with bad spelling and grammar, but if they know my educational level or profession, I have to go to great lengths to manufacture another reason so I don't look like a snob especially if they have a blue-ish collar job. A primary school teacher or librarian could reasonably screen people by their grammar, but for a PhD to do so, it's regarded as snobbery.

There are some good facets of dating while on the job search.

- Dating improves social skills. Every week, I have hour-long appointments with at least one stranger per week, and my social skills have gotten good enough that I almost always connect with my interviewer or date, even if it's not a match.

- I'm used to the cycle of excitement, critical examination, and reconsideration, and my accuracy anticipating rejection has improved immensely.

- No two body problem, and I can proudly declare that on dates if it comes up. Um, I mean job interviews. I'll leave that in. I can also declare it on dates.

- Academia gives me a way to meet new people in a new city and bond with them, even in totally different fields.

- The cities with good dating are great places to live.

- Within the constraints of the dating cities, I can make the decision which is best for my career, and don't have to accept a lesser job for someone else. Some of the compromises that couples make for each other improve the relationship, but others jeopardize it; I know one couple where she got her favorite tenure-track job so he accepted his least favorite job (basically, in industry) so she could take it and didn't like the job much better once he took it; after hearing from each of them how this decision was made, I have a hard time seeing how he could stay in this relationship and be happy, but who knows. By contrast, I know a couple where she finished before he did, and got a fabulous tenure-track job, and they came together to the new city; he is way underemployed as an adjunct although he is completely brilliant and certainly a peer of his wife, just in a less in-demand subfield than her subfield, but he seems content.

Irrespectively, it's still a bit lonely when I'm among academics and realize that I'm the only single, which happens increasingly often, even with people a step or two younger than I, like graduate students or god-help-me freshly-graduated post-college RAs.

Dating disappointment: revision 2

One of the parts of being what I suppose is overly analytical is that I really want to know enough about my life to be able to tell a coherent narrative. It bugs me when I don't know what happened, especially if it was semi-important. Although I've moved on with my life (I've been on a few dates with someone where there's clear mutual interest, and where it's in many ways a better match than this guy. I can't say anything, but for now there's nothing better than sitting next to someone and gradually leaning towards and then on each other. Very high school, but very nice.), the gap in my knowledge about my own life still kind-of bugs me.

On a lark, I decided to look at the facebook newsfeed of the girl that the passive-aggressive guy is now dating. Seeing the newsfeeds next to each other is evocative, especially now that I have changed their names to Hans Hansen and Helga Helgadottir. I'm leaving in mostly relationship-relevant stuff, and not including the innumerable games and "which X are you like" quizzes that they took together. That profusion of quizzes is bizarre, though.

December 21:
2:59pm: Helga commented on her own photo.
I'm pursuing my dream of becoming a spinster with cats....HA! (they ARE cute though aren't they???? Admit it!!!!)

December 22:
11:34am: Helga and Hans Hansen are now friends.
7:48pm: Helga received a new movie compatibility match.
Hans Hansen took the test and scored 57 (Casual buddies) with Helga.

3:34pm: Hans is kinda psyched for tonight.

December 24
12:33am: Hans is about as excited as possible for Xmas Eve...and for reasons having nothing to do with Xmas.
9:38am: Helga sent a new message to Hans. Click here to see Hans's message. [these are the ones about how cute the other is.]
9:51am: Helga is excited about tonight!
9:56am: Helga received a new message. Click here to see Hans's message
10:00am: Helga sent a new message to Hans. Click here to see Hans's message

December 25
11:11am: Hans is just waking up after a great night.
8:47pm: Hans is kinda giddy.

December 26
8:24am: Helga is floating...
12:56pm: Helga is ecstatic...
12:56pm: Helga is listed as in a relationship.
1:31pm: Helga is listed as single.
2:08pm: Helga is thinking too much as usual....
2:39pm: Hans is counting the minutes till this evenin'.

December 27
8:24am. Helga is hoping a week and a half goes by fast...
10:59am: Helga sent a new message to Hans. Click here to see Hans's message
1:07pm: Helga is listed as in a relationship.
2:43pm: Helga is head over heels....

December 28
11:25am: Hans is listed as in a relationship.
8:42am: Hans is worn out...
10:59am: Hans received a new message. Click here to see Helga's message
6:23pm: Hans en route to Airport and then City. And still worn out.

December 31
9:01am: Helga is missing her love slave...ha ha!
9:03am: Helga sent a new greeting card to Hans. Click here to see Hans's greeting card
11:13am Helga is looking forward to being off work tomorrow!
12:21pm Helga is thinking about hot tubs..etc.
2:09pm Helga is restless.

January 2
8:33am: Helga is back to work...whoo hoo!
3:38pm: Helga is missing her beau....awww..

January 3
11:41am: Helga threw a Kiss at Hans Hansen!
1:35pm: Helga recruited Hans Hansen to the cause [whatever].
3:17pm: Helga Poked Hans Hansen with the song..."Just Like Heaven" by The Cure
4:16pm: Helga is hungry!
4:18pm: Helga is listed as single.
4:18pm: Helga is listed as in a relationship.
6:51pm: Helga is listed as in a relationship with Hans Hansen.
7:03pm: Helga is happy!

6:51pm: Hans is listed as in a relationship with Helga Helgadottir.

7:22am: Helga is ecstatic!
2:31pm Hans is back in City. Huzzah!

1:03pm: Helga is totally giddy...

I looked back at an email from "Hans" for one more piece of data. This email is the one after his break-up email:

And thanks for being so understanding, I know it is
kind of shitty that something that doesn't have
anything to do with you could have an effect. And to
be honest, I never really thought I was one of those
people who would let that happen. But...I guess I just
need some more time to sort myself out.

My guess of what happened:

  • Hans and Helga knew each other before I met Hans, and they did not date for some reason: maybe Helga was dating someone else; maybe Hans didn't realize Helga liked him; it doesn't matter.
  • The barrier to dating lifted and H&H started to see more of each other while I was traveling, possibly with the explicit potential for dating; possibly not. Possibly they were platonic; possibly the sexual tension overcame their best intentions; possibly they never intended to be platonic.
  • At some point, Hans realized his relationship with Helga had great potential and he had no doubts on that, but he didn't know what to tell me; or he wasn't totally sure, and didn't want to lose me if Helga wasn't a sure bet. Either way, he put off the break-up and in the meantime became distant and avoided me, "lost" his phone, "remembered" a late night grad school meeting, got sick (psychosomatic?).
  • When I pressed him, he gave the "it's not you, it's me; that's so cliche, but I really mean it" line, which I suspect he meant in the best possible way: it's possible for something or someone to be so fantastic and appealing that you wish you liked them, but you just don't. Or you like them and care about them and find them attractive and wish you felt connected with them, but you just don't. I've felt like that quite a bit about past dates (including him), and also jazz and dogs.
  • If I can take literally the external circumstances that he mentions in the second email, he attributed his ambivalence largely to whatever happened with Helga. I am fairly sure that it has nothing to do with her; we may have even been on the same page in being extremely fond of each other in myriad ways and really enjoying whatever closeness and intimacy there was, but just feeling like something was lacking. One thing that bugged me when I was seeing him was that our first meeting was not crystalized in my mind and did not seem particularly special. I had an open mind that terrific things could develop, and he made me very happy, but compared with the spark and connection that I felt with other people (sometimes during my relationship with Hans) and the first meetings that are forever etched in my mind, it felt weak.
  • He truly felt bad about it, and could not face me when I asked to talk in person or on the phone because he couldn't guard his words as well that way.
  • He did not want to hurt me, but he also wanted to keep the girl. So he made it look on facebook like they had just met, and only then started to write about her in his newsfeed. Her newsfeed is very active so I can't see anything prior to around this time, so it's hard to tell whether she was writing about him before. After a couple of days of her trying to make their relationship "facebook-official", he agreed, but held off on including her name for another week.

He may or may not have cheated on me, but whatever happened I don't think he took it lightly, and the profusion of apparent lies came from feeling guilty. I think that I'm actually genuinely happy for both of them. The facebook status is so public and yet can give such a close look at how someone is feeling: she seemed to feel lonely beforehand, and clearly they're having fantastic sleepless nights together (the advice of GET MARRIED NOW notwithstanding). Her love slave remark is priceless for sure.

I still have no desire ever to speak with him again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

CP Snow's Two Cultures and Dating

CP Snow said that there are two cultures which divide Western culture: science versus humanities. While the division in Snow's book was between those who see science as objective versus culturally embedded, often people speak of the norms associated with the cultures: the scientific culture values pragmatism and objectivity, while the humanistic culture is more idealistic and romantic so doesn't privilege pragmatism above ideals. In what I am sure is an oversimplification and misapplication of precise philosophical terms: scientific culture is utilitarian and consequentialist; humanistic culture is deontological. The two cultures may differ in their use of language (even setting jargon aside) and decision-making process. All dichotomies are false, but some are useful, and I'll explore this one.

As some readers have noticed, I am definitely on the scientific side. (Of course, the trend towards interdisciplinary and quantitative work has suffused the academy, so there are now scientific folk even in the humanities, so this doesn't imply anything about my field.) Conversation has a certain ratio of sociability to information, and sometimes you just have to set aside the information and be happy to be talking. People who value conversation primarily for information exchange will email their conversation partner afterwards (sometimes even if they didn't like them!) if they find out a new fact; people who value conversation primarily as sociability wouldn't see the need unless they wanted an excuse to talk with the person afterwards. Valuing conversation as information exchange may not be intrinsically characteristic of the scientific culture, but the stress on information and facts does go along with it. Until 2 years ago, I thought conversation was primarily about information exchange. That sounds really funny, like I'm autistic; I'm actually pretty sociable, at least among geeks.

Humanists can value what they don't understand, while scientists want to know why something is useful before they value it.

From the outside, it can look pretty weird. My roommate and her boyfriend both attended a tech school, though one of them is no longer in a scientific field. They spend hours upon hours in intimate conversations on topics such as how thermostats work or their offices' computer systems, all while gazing lovingly into the other's eyes. They discuss people sometimes and they play with mutual friends' children together, but quite a lot of the time, they discuss these factual, concrete topics as if they were the most romantic in the world.

I've dated across the two cultures, and I know of many successful marriages across the cultures, but I think there is additional comfort with someone from the same side, and it's not about shared interest.

Lately I've been seeing a sociable science-type in a canonically geeky field. After the passive-aggressive guy who was a canonical humanist, it's such a relief to be with someone from the same side of the cultural gap. Many of the other people where I think there's serious potential are also on the same side of the cultural gap. I say that the reason for the comfort is culture rather than shared interest because --- unlike with my roommate --- science or math rarely comes up. I don't go to science museums, program computers, or talk about calculus in my spare time; it's kind of nice to be with someone where I suppose we could do these things, but it almost never happens. There's simply comfort in the shared culture; despite being what a commenter called overly-analytical, I can't even start to be more specific about why.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thank you notes and gifts

My proposal defense was at this time a couple of years ago. I had just been visiting my family, and so bought small boxes of local-specialty chocolate at an after-Christmas sale: definitely not lavish, maybe $10-15 each. After the defense (which I passed conditionally), I gave them out to my committee members, who were visibly uncomfortable accepting them. One or two of them even said something about how they weren't sure they should accept them.

On the Chronicle boards, it seems like it's standard to give thank you gifts to one's committee, so I didn't know why they were uncomfortable accepting the gifts.

This time, to thank them and everyone else who helped me during graduate school, I am writing just plain thank you notes written on some cream Crane's cards. It seems like an awfully weak gesture, but for whatever reason they had been uncomfortable with gifts before, and I don't want to make the same mistake.

Did you give thank you gifts to your committee?