Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's hard out here for a physicist

"Trying to write a pseudonymous blog that wouldn't be immediately identifiable as me would require an awful lot of effort, more effort than would be worth it for the sake of blowing off a little steam."
Chad Orzel

So true, so true. It's darn hard. And what are the rewards? I get
no credit, no acclaim. Heck, I hardly get any readers. It all started
with my reviews. I actually take reviewing seriously which makes me an
attractive mark reviewer for editors. Here I was
tsk-tsking the elders of the field on sloppiness, and then running
into them just a few weeks later. Anonymity wasn't enough to protect
me...so I'd use different "voices" in my reports. There was the uptight
who never ended a sentence with a proposition, no matter how awkward
things might get. Then there was the folksy neighbor using non-words
such as "ain't" and beginning sentences with "And another thing..."

So for this blog, it's tough. I'd love to tell stories about meeting
famous physicists, or casually bring up some invitation to speak. Or
even just pointing out interesting papers on the arXiv. But this
community is small. I was chatting about someone's research last week
and wanted to make fun of what a certain physics blogger we all know
and love would think of the work. Just an hour later, looking at some of
this guy's previous papers, he's published with that same physicist!

Anywho, I'm a complainer. I go through financial institutions pretty
quickly. I know this. However, I still maintain that, no matter how
trivial they might be, my complaints are still legitimate. So having
gotten nowhere with one such institution, I closed my accounts with them
and subsequently posted to a finance forum, explaining what happened.
I had heard stories of customers doing similarly and actually hearing
back from institutions trying to make things right in fear of such

So what did I get? Tons of pity, sympathy, advice, consolation? Oh no.
There was some biting, albeit funny, jokes speculating what kind of
curmudgeon I was. But mostly it was people lambasting me expecting
good service and for complaining. Indeed, they just assumed
I had yelled at the CSR on the phone despite the fact that I neither
yelled nor mentioned yelling in my post. People were mean and, I was actually
a bit surprised that it had any effect on me. Here I was, anonymously
posting, and people's hurtful comments about an issue that was done
and over with were bothering me. It's hard for me to even extrapolate
what some teenager might go through with non-anonymous trashing in
social media.

So I concluded that people pretty much suck. They litter, they smoke
near entryways, they drive slowly in the passing lane, and they
perpetuate annoyances such as Rush Limbaugh and Nigerian email scams,

Anyway, one of the things I struggle to communicate concerns the drive
in this profession. I'm friends with a wide range of physicists. The
spectrum pretty much spans the range from those content to teach a few
classes and who do no research...to those who have many pots in the fire,
students working on all manner of things, running from collaborative
meeting to another. I say it's a spectrum, but if one actually introduced
a measure on it, I doubt they're many in between the extremes. I
suspect it's a pretty bimodal distribution. Me? I'm special. Neh, rare!

I always maintain a few pots in the fire, but I'm pretty laid back. I
have a competitive drive to compete with peers. But at the same time,
I want to enjoy the trip. And really I'm not sure where the drive
comes from. It's not that I enjoy the competition.