Friday, July 31, 2009


Got word this afternoon that I've got preliminary approval to finance the office building purchase. It'll be a joint venture between us and my father-in-law. We'd be putting down about 18% of the purchase price to his 12%, and financing the remaining 70%.

I'm just thrilled. Next step is to put in an offer on the building I'd like to buy, and hope they accept it. It's a comfortable space downtown in an arts and cafe district, about 3.2 miles from our house (so I could bike it in nice weather). The office is about 1800 sq.ft., with an apartment above, that could be rented out, or used as temporary housing for new recruits, or for childcare, or exercise equipment, or just about anything.

Things are moving along.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to the plan?

Today, RocketMom headed out of town with the two younger boys to pick up our oldest at his grandparents. He's been there for the week attending a summer camp. I had my intern over this morning for a few hours, then... I've been alone. I think perhaps this is the longest I've been alone at home since we moved here. It's been a time to reflect on things. I realize how important my family has become to my sense of self, how much of my motivations and quotidien decisions circle around being part of a domestic group.

It's been a time for me to reflect on where I am in life, and where I'm going. I submitted my second stage contract proposal earlier in the week. I'll still need to work up a contract with them. But it seems ever more expected that this will simply go. I can't quite bring myself to disbelieve it... but I remain amazed at how far I've come these past few years. And I'm hoping to submit yet another new grant proposal in the next couple weeks. That'd make four outstanding proposals, on top of the expected two-year contract. Each one of them represents the potential to hire another one or two or three additional employees over the coming year or so.

Some of you have followed me on this journey from desperate academic seeker to whatever I've become. Three years ago, I wrote:

I know where I want to be in 5-10. I want to be director of an interdisciplinary institute or center on my area of study, bringing together researchers and faculty from a variety of disciplines and methodological backgrounds to focus on the subject matter.

I find myself, three years later on the verge of heading just such a team. Not quite the plan I had. In some ways, more independent. I'm not running an insititute or a center, I'm running a start-up, a bootstrap as they say (meaning not a penny from investors, just me). I've gotten two contracts, and a third on the way, enough to hire a small team. And it's all on me.

There's an ad I've seen on the web, showing a business card, that slowly adds more and more titles: President, CEO, Accountant, HR, Receptionist. I chuckle. It's not a joke. I'm the grants writer, and the payroll specialist, the PI, and the maintenance engineer, the purchasing agent, and the janitor. But soon, oh so very soon (even if it's months away), I'll be the director of my very own hand-picked research team, engaged in my very own hand-picked projects.

It's humbling. And inspiring. It's what I wanted those years ago. In a sense. The odd thing is: I fell into this role, being an entrepreneur, a business owner. Looking over things, I came across a post over at BlogHer by my friend Leslie , that linked to some of my posts from early 2006, when I was still in the thrall of academia, wanting so much to just persevere long enough to make it. I never did, at least not in that realm... but oh I held on.

It's just somewhere along the path, I meandered. I tired of the monotony of application, rejection, application, rejection, appli... Finally, I emerged, hesitantly, uncertainly. Less than a year ago I got word of my first contract four years after completing the PhD. Four .. very .. long .. years. Only a month ago, I got word that the transition funding was approved, and that I was invited to submit a two-year contract.

This is all still new, the paint is still drying. Yet another chapter in my life is about to begin. Wow!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A desperate quest for we

I suppose what most motivated me in my desire to hire my friend has been what I might call "a desperate quest for we." I have often noted the loneliness of my position. It was desperately, depressingly lonely on my faculty job search. I reiterate (even to the disbelief of my friends Lilian and BrightStar), in nearly five years of searching, beginning the year before I completed my dissertation, I applied for no less than 150 faculty and related positions! Only then, finally, throwing in the towel in my quest to become a respectable academic.

In all of that, and even now, I have sought to find a home for my research and my energies, where I could be a part of something bigger than myself and my own thoughts. Yes, as undine points out, I have attained an enviable degree of present success. And yet, I'm still a me not a we. I think of BrightStar's recent musings about collegial issues, and part of me is nothing more than envious that one could even have colleagues.

But, when all is said and done... I guess the grass over here is pretty green after all, even if I find myself more often than I'd like enjoying it alone. Let's hope hiring won't be like trying to buy friends. There's work to be done. I just hope I can find some pleasant company to join me in the task.

Echoes of Thomas Paine

What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly.
-- Thomas Paine

And so it is still today. I find myself in the awkward position of offering a research position to a former colleague of mine (a cohort who only this year filed his dissertation, four years after I did) who hesitates to accept. He's still holding out hope (not entirely without reason) of landing a faculty position, and he hesitates to join me in these northern climes. I like him. But, truth be told, I'm not desperate.

I admit, part of my desire was to begin with someone I could trust, someone I knew. I guess there's something to be said for simply advertising and reviewing applications. Maybe what I really need is to to see what sort of interest I might attract by putting an advertisement out there. I hear that a research post with a startup paying in the range of $40k/year plus benefits in an area with a cost of living more than 20% below the national average ought be quite attractive to a host of qualified candidates.

Funny thing: no one called me up and offered me a job when I graduated. I worked for this. And damned if I'm not going to enjoy it, with or without hiring my friends.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What a change!

I got back from the lakehouse on Sunday evening. I spent a couple days fiddling with my budgets, and following up on possible office space (lease or buy?), as well as catching up on emails, and myriad miscellany.

It's at times overwhelming: A couple years ago, I was in Adjunct Servitude and spending half my income on a rented office space for a business that existed only within those four walls and my mind. I have often fretted over how lonely it is without the support of an academic institution or an employer, or even a team of coworkers.

It was nearly a year ago that things started to change. I was awarded a six-month contract (it lapsed about four months ago), worth about ten times what I made per semester as an adjunct! We had recently moved into our home, and I had setup shop in a home office, now cluttered with two large "L" desks on opposite corners, three computers (two desktops and a laptop), an overflowing filing cabinet, a couple printers, and a couple storage cabinets.

I've got an intern now. Last week, I received official notice that the second part of my initial contract had been funded, to provide transitional support while I go through the process of proposing and negotiating a two-year contract for continued research and development (worth 100 times what I made in a semester as an adjunct!).

I'm no longer quite alone (for now at least I have an intern). I expect to hire three post-docs in the fall or early 2010. What a change! And I'll be paying them more than two and a half times my annual salary as an adjunct (with health and retirement benefits, bonuses and raises, that make a former adjunct giddy)! It feels good to be on the verge of accomplishing that.

But there are so many details to attend to: the office space; the final proposal and contract negotiations; budgeting, payroll, and accounting; legal and patenting; ordering equipment and software and furniture and office supplies; Interviewing and hiring candidates; benefits administration.

And in the midst of it, my principal hard drive failed yesterday morning! Drive 0 not found. No bootfile. Aargh! I had made a backup of all my important business files (meaning the research and administrative materials) before heading to the lakehouse. I had a backup of the entire computer from October (yeah, I should do it weekly!). Mostly, I lost the last few months of pictures, and some household documents.

And... I lost the work I had done on budgetting and such from the first part of this week. Okay, a couple days to recover. It's frustrating, because I need to get that final proposal in soon! And the budget is significant, since it determines how many labor hours I have to spend on the project, and thus what I can reasonably promise in the plan of work.

But, these are minor annoyances. Truly, honestly, amazingly--I am thankful for where I am, for what I have. Today is a better day than yesterday, metaphorically and literally.