ellipsix informatics

The end

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!


New Adventures in China

The blog has been pretty quiet the last few months, because I've been getting ready to move to Wuhan, China, where I'll be starting work as a postdoc at Central China Normal University.

It turns out that moving to another country - in fact another continent - takes a lot of preparation. Shocker, huh. Airlines put pretty restrictive limits on both the amount and type of things you can take, so I had to pack light. I'll basically be living out of a couple of suitcases for the next six weeks. But at the same time, shipping things to China is unreliable, expensive, and impossible until I find out where I'll be living, so I had to make sure to take everything I needed. It took some planning to figure out how to fit the essentials into those two suitcases. My old habit of making a checklist of what to pack really came in handy!

Then there's the whole issue of getting permission to enter the country in the first place. Officially, to work in China, I need a work visa. For that I need a work permit from the university. For them to give me the work permit, they need to see a copy of my PhD diploma. (No, that doesn't make sense to me either. Copies are not hard to fake.) To get the diploma I had to submit my dissertation and all the accompanying paperwork. One of those papers was a signature form that had to be signed by all members of my dissertation committee. To get them to sign the paper, I had to revise my dissertation according to their directions, which I only got after my defense at the beginning of August.


Wait, there's more! Since I defended my thesis in August, I don't officially get to graduate until December. But Penn State doesn't actually mail out diplomas for people who aren't there until a month later (mid-January). So, based on that schedule, once I get to send a copy to the people at CCNU, they probably wouldn't finish the paperwork until after the Chinese New Year in February, which is a pretty major holiday from what I hear. So I might not be officially employed until nearly a full year after getting the offer!

Anyway, for now I'm going as a visitor, on a temporary business visa. This plan works around the visa rules, and reportedly they can still pay me, which is the important thing.

Coincidentally, this trip comes just as National Novel Writing Month starts, or in my case, National Blog Writing Month. I'm going to try again to go for my goal of 30 non-trivial blog posts in 30 days. And I'm probably going to fall short again, but at least I do have a bunch of good science ideas saved up, and there will be a lot of updates about life in China. Maybe this will be the year, who knows?

Just to be safe, I'm counting this as one.