Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You looking for a job?

Are you interested in a full-time faculty position?
Why? Are you hiring?
Well, yes... I mean, we're opening three positions soon, and I thought...

Okay... so this exchange actually happened over the phone, just a little while ago, between me and this Associate Dean for Research whom I was supposed to speak with last week. I said that I was open to discussion. Now, I know well enough to take every exchange like that with more than a grain of salt. Just because someone mentions a position, and their interest in me applying, does not in any way constitute a likelihood that I would even be interviewed, much less offered such a post.

Truth is, my budget for the next couple years has me receiving a salary about 60% higher than they'd likely offer. And, as I pointed out to her, it might be hard for me to take a full-time faculty gig while running my business. To which she suggested maybe I'd be available to teach some classes in any case. But what an odd thing to hear, not in some casual way by a member of a committee whom I'm acquainted with, but from a Dean who's been entrusted to beef up the research faculty. And what an odd place for me to be that I'm not terribly enticed by the prospect.

I'm flattered by the attention, but I honestly don't know how to react.

Friday, October 9, 2009


How do we reflect upon ourselves? see ourselves as others see us... How strange to be in a position to interview others, to set them under my own microscope, to judge them, to see their lives and careers (to some degree at least) in my hands.

How do they see me? How do they think that I see them? To receive their follow up emails: eager, nervous. I remember sending one after a flawed interview. The question I fumbled was how I had dealt with a difficult situation. It wasn't really a fumble. It was me, raw, unprotected, human.

My father had just died, perhaps a couple weeks before. I answered that the toughest situation I had dealt with was watching him slowly but irremediably pass from the living to the dying. At least one among them couldn't appreciate the humanity in that.

I wrote to the committee, desperately hoping to redress my interview, recounting having taught on the day of the Columbine shootings, just a few miles down the road... and during the weeks that followed. How some of my students were shell-shocked, a couple even suicidal. That was real. They didn't call me back for a campus interview. Their loss.

And now I sit in judgement of others, the arbiter of whether they recieve an offer for employment. Will they take the offer? What do they think of me? I asked them each as much on the phone last week? What do you expect of the position? What do you expect working for me? What did they know about me?

Some of them had done their homework. Web stats can be pretty revealing. Sure, I guard my anonymity here, but there's a lot I've revealed about myself on the web, that I don't guard jealously. I've nothing to hide. I'm impressed by their diligence. I'm ... pleased that they still want to work for me, having put me to the test. But then, I'm the one with the purse-strings at the moment.

Why am I here? What special potion has allowed me to rise like cream in a churn? I think of all the smart people in the world, all the industrious, all the hard workers, all the clever and committed. I am lucky.

Lately, I've been surrounded by people who find me remarkable. I've heard a few of them use the word genius in reference to me. How funny: a couple years ago, they might have viewed me in some soft-focus stereotype of a Berkeley perpetual student. My wife thinks I'm special, that my mind works differently from most people. Sure, I'll accept that. But different is not necessarily better.

Just now I've lucked upon a way to make that difference meaningful. Only time will tell whether that translates to being useful as well. R&D suits me. But perhaps in the way that potential has long been my raiment. Will I realize that potential? Will I deliver the D to my R?

That chance I've been given. Let me not squander it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


It's a metaphor... I'm not a runner.

Yesterday, I spent more than 5 hours on the phone talking with job applicants. A couple of them I was less impressed with than expected, and pleasingly a couple I was more impressed with. If I have my druthers, I'll be issuing an invitation to come for a site visit in the next couple weeks and contingent offers for employment to three of them, two post-doc and one ABD.

It's touch and go. I have little idea just when the funds for my Second Stage (2-year) contract will hit the bank. I could probably float salaries and benefits for all three for about a month... but that's it. I've been paying myself a month in arrears simply for cashflow. Meaning, of course, I can't hire them too soon, lest I wind up with unexpected delays on my funding.

I should hear back today or tomorrow from my agency lead for the big project if we're a go to submit our materials to the contracts department, which would put us on the slow track for budget and oversight approval. If all goes well, that'll only take a month or two, and we'd be on target for funding around the top of the year. But, I've heard of it taking 4 or 6, even 8 months. I think I've got clean books and a good budget, but this is my first time going through the audit approval process. There's no telling.

I expect to hear also in the next couple weeks from the second agency that has selected my firm about the schedule for award on that contract. It's in the works, that's all I know. Since payment is in arrears after submittal of progress reports, I expect the soonest any funding would come in from that source would be around the middle to end of December. Finally, I'm biting my nails on one outstanding proposal to yet a third agency. If that comes through, I'm good to hire another one or two in the coming year beyond those three.

I'm in my new office now. But they've been renovating the street. Daily I'm bombarded with the sound of bricks and concrete being sawn. Imagine me, sitting here, on the phone for six hours, with that as background noise. But I got through it. Come next week, the renovations (on my block at least) should be through. I hope!

But I'm happy, very happy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And so it goes

Tomorrow, I'll spend about three hours on the phone following up on references for various job applicants. Wednesday, I'll be on the phone with the Associate Dean for Research at one the colleges of a nearby state university, who's asked to speak with me about my research. She's been tasked with bringing on board more research faculty and collaborative efforts with industry. What a strange new world.

I still wait to hear back from one federal agency which is reviewing one of my proposals for funding, on top of what's pending and funded from other agencies. At the latest, I should hear by the end of the month. I closed on the building last week. I'll be moving this computer, another desk, and various other bits of furniture and sundries to the office beginning tomorrow. I now own a home and an office building.

The space currently has five desks and a conference room. My intern cum part-time assistant was there with me last Thursday, writing up a shopping list. Item 11 is "Employees". Got to love his sense of humor. Not sure what aisle I'd find them in however. Guess I'll have to settle for the old-fashioned method. A few more applications came in last week, from Russia and Australia!

I've been taking part in a bunch of local entrepreneurial activities and workshops. I've been welcomed by the community of entrepreneurs. I'm in my element, retaining my own sense of things, learning from others, keeping my independence. I won't forget from whence I come. I won't forget the pain of spending four years searching for a faculty position.

I realize that I am that same person today as I was a few years back. My commitment, my drive, my interests... none of them have changed. Only the circumstances in which I find myself. And if me... then thousands of others as well. Many or most of whom remain in the quagmire of circumstances I well recall. Only, I'm lucky. My wife's former income, and our good financial stewardship allowed us to take a chance that has paid off. Whatever I can do to succeed enough to level the playing field, I will.

Let me not forget who I am, who are my people, who are my colleagues, who are my peers, who are my friends.