Thursday, September 17, 2009

Distinctly Unpleasant Position

Another application arrived today. A doctoral candidate (on the verge of defending) from across the sea. So far, I have eight applicants for three positions: two with Bachelor's degrees; two Assistant Professors; two relatively local; two from foreign countries; one recent PhD (about a year ago); and three about to defend. Not one like me. Odd. I thought there would be. I find myself in the distinctly unpleasant position of knowing that I must turn away most of these applicants, some with truly impressive credentials; all with great potential. And I find myself realizing as well that I am not quite certain what it is I need them to be doing, or just how I should evaluate them. Thankfully, I've enlisted a handful of others to help me make those decisions.

All I know for sure is that it were a super-human feat to deliver all I've promised on schedule without help. And I know that there is sufficient funding at my discretion to hire that help. My intern remarked today--as I sent off the (hopefully) final draft of my second stage proposal, work plan, and budget--that he has worked for me nearly four months, and he's not quite sure what I do. And that is fair, because most of the time he's been in my employ, I've spent on administration and proposal rewrites and patent preparations and building purchase and travel and meetings and conferences and learning accounting procedures and project management and planning and human resources and... [EXHALE INHALE].

When my patent attorney asked me earlier in the week... and then, okay, so then what do you do? I nearly lost it. Not in anger mind you, just in frustration, in wondering yeah... what do I do? Procedures, algorithms, steps. What's novel? It's there, I know it. It works. I've demonstrated that, at least preliminarily. That's why I've gotten this funding.

But it's been nearly as much time since I've worked concentratedly on the research as I spent under the first part of my first contract. Now I'm under the second half of that first contract; I have an entirely new first stage contract starting in perhaps a month or two, for an entirely different project; and the second two-year contract on the first project is expected in due course, with the expectation that I'll be leading a team of researchers to deliver! Plus I still have two more proposals outstanding: one which has been pending review since November, and which I'd just as soon forget; but the other which I remain confident about.

So what then? I've already got budgetted full-time work for four people with part-time assistance from two others for the two existing projects. If one of these others comes through, that'd mean likely another two or three new hires. And the company remains at the moment in essence just me, with an intern 8-10 hours a week, and a wife who's agreed to take on some administrative and project management duties perhaps 4 hours or so per week. Don't get me wrong... I'm not complaining... just flabbergasted, and a bit stressed. I'm eager to return to the heart of the work. But there are so many steps just getting there.

There are times that I have lamented not having a classroom, because I love teaching. And yet, I realize this is all about teaching. My present is about training people in the research and procedures that are closest to my heart and mind. This is all about me, about my work, about my ideas. It's humbling really. To some extent this must be what it's like to teach from your own textbook in an area that you specialize in.

I have a great responsibility. I'm no longer simply putting my own reputation on the line. So what? You make a few mistakes. Nobody's perfect. But I'm on the verge of hiring a few others, teaching them what I do and how, and overseeing their efforts to coax my kernels into a field of corn. What I am offering others is risk, raw, unadorned. I'm peddling my own elixir, and seeking those who'll have enough faith in its healing powers not only to sell it on to others, but to imbibe of it themselves.

Wish me luck: to find those people, yes; but more importantly to ensure that the elixir requires no antidote.


Lilian said...

Wow... beautiful language and difficult task. May your wish come true, my friend, and the elixir come to be.

Kris Peleg said...

Sounds like you are ready for a very sweet new year. Looking forward to meeting up with you when I get back next summer.