Well, that’s it: as of today, I’m officially no longer a scientist.
Unofficially, of course, it’s not that simple. My postdoc contract expired on September 30, but I’m still not done with a couple of projects I really wanted to finish before leaving CCNU. So I might wind up putting some things on arXiv this month and maybe even submitting one last paper, but in the long term, research and I are parting ways.
One of the last things I did before my official end was attending the Hard Probes conference here in Wuhan, which is a large international conference in my field held every two years in various places around the world. It was actually a great experience! The work I’ve done over the past 5 years (on next-to-leading-order forward hadron production cross sections, if you care) was referenced at least half a dozen times in various people’s talks — and that’s just what I saw. I got to meet several of the big names in the field, and some of them even actually wanted to be introduced to me! I had a bunch of people ask me questions about my papers and their followups, many of which led to interesting technical discussions. For the first time in my career, I really felt like the expert on something that other scientists actually cared about.
In all these conversations, one of the frequent questions was, where am I going next? Of course, I would answer them that I’m not continuing in academia — but I was surprised how many people responded that they thought I could get a good second postdoc somewhere. In prior years I’d gotten the feeling that my work wasn’t appreciated by the community at large; that I was working on something without much interest from anyone else, and I’d always figured that meant my chances of getting another postdoc were low. Now, at this point I know there’s no way I’d get another postdoc, since I have a measly two publications to show for my time here (and in most cases you need six). But it could be that I was too quick to dismiss my chances earlier, when I started at CCNU, and if I’d known that I might have tried a little harder.
Still, I think the decision to leave academia is the right one for me. At Hard Probes I got a sense of what it’s like to be a real researcher, and let me tell you, it is exhausting. Conference activities ran from 8:30 AM to 6 PM every day, then I’d typically go out to dinner with a group which would last until 9 or 10 PM, then I’d get home and have calculations to do, emails to send, notes to review (and write), etc. etc., which would keep me up until 3 AM… then 3 hours of sleep and it’s time to start all over. This is only slightly more grueling than the schedule I see the professors here keep on a daily basis. Every day. Weekends, weekdays, holidays, all the same. I can’t handle that. Whoever can, I don’t know how, but good for them… clearly, though, this is not the life for me.
There will be more updates here on whatever comes next!