Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I've been meaning to write about collaborations for a while and hearing this (not too convincing) story on NPR today helped motivate me. Apparently this study, using a slightly modified "prisoner's dilemma" game found that those who cooperate and don't punish slackers do the best.

Throughout my years (I like to sound like I'm an octogenarian), I have enjoyed/endured a number of collaborations. There are all types. There's the "tease" in which someone talks up a project at a conference only to never follow through. Those aren't a big deal since all you've invested is some thought and excitement. One step up is the person who gets you to start something but never follows-up. In my case, I hit an obstacle and didn't have the expertise to push past without some help. Oh well.

There's another, much more involved one that I've mostly put behind me. The lot of us were left scarred and maybe I'll discuss that later.

Of more importance is one I'm in now. There's one person who is a pro at these things. He does the bare minimum to remain involved, but otherwise doesn't even respond. He's always gung ho at the beginning of something to ensure his name gets attached but little follow through. I'm pretty much used to him, though I don't appreciate the dilution (and cost) of his presence. It's hard to leave him off though and he knows just what little is to be done so that it is difficult.

But perhaps the worst of all is this one person who gets much of the credit. Some grad student will ask a pretty standard question and this guy is the first to answer as if the answer springs from some bottomless well of knowledge. Have a problem? This guy will be the first to say he'll look at it. Nevermind, that his look never comes and if it does, with no help. But this guy is a pro. He talks the talk as if he's humble, as if all the underlings deserve the credit, but I (if only "we") know better.

So why do I stay? Of course, because it benefits me. These people can do things I can't or won't. Even if I could, I'm more productive with them than without them. In terms of advice, I would just reiterate that doing well in academic physics is very much about perceptions, interactions, and networking, things I had hoped to avoid by going into academia. Sure there are some who go off and work on their own and become stars, but those are few and there's a large element of luck in it. The safest bet is to go into things aware from the beginning.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wo is me

Reasons to be depressed:

  • My intro physics class consists of students who have no interest in the subject and in whom none can be inspired.
  • The University committee I chair consists of the laziest faculty on campus.
  • The NSF budget is wreaking havoc on my plans/research.
  • I've been plugging away on two different projects for months with only incremental success and continued obstacles appearing.
  • I wasn't invited to talk at the last couple significant meetings.
  • A certain someone I've self-appointed as my most comparable competition put out a pretty good paper in the last couple weeks.
  • Wondering if it's normal to think in lists all the time...or maybe I just started this when I started blogging? Or maybe I've got some kind of Lisp virus infecting me? I try to wash my hands.
  • I've been so busy, I haven't had time to read blogs, let alone to blog myself. Now, I'm all caught up on my blog reading which is, itself, reason to be depressed because I'm not working hard enough.

Logical reasons to be happy

  • I've got my health.
  • I've got a pretty good job with a likely pay raise coming.
  • My NSF funding might actually hold up until the budget havoc straightens out.
  • I've actually had some time to try to figure out some physics lately in between all the proposal writing, refereeing, etc.
  • My home life is mostly good.
  • None of my secret, wicked ways have been made public with a force resignation, nor have I lied to Congress recently.