Thursday, December 2, 2010
I'm just floored. I feel pampered and encouraged and wonderful. When I set out, and trudged on, and wilted on the faculty job search, I couldn't have dreamed I'd be where I am now, receiving this kind of attention and support. Maybe it's in part the result of having proven something, simply through perseverance. But I can't help but wonder why the system is so designed for famine and feast.
To be honest, while I'm quite content just now, I'd gladly give up ninety percent of the support and encouragement if I could be assured it'd be spread out among those equally worthy but ignored post-docs and adjuncts among whose ranks I toiled for a time. At the moment I am the beneficiary of largess, but the unfairness of the process is not lost on me. Someday I may again be cast aside, as easily as I am now lauded. I endeavor to retain grace and dignity should that occur, and I hope for the courage to foster and sustain those who find themselves in that state, while I bask in the glow of success.
I'm heading to the state capital next week to serve on an advisory committee for small businesses. I hope to raise some of these issues in an effort to provide opportunties for those many who could benefit from a similar path to the one I've taken, without so many of the bumps and bruises.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
However, the fragility of it all weighs heavily on me right now. The firm was turned down for a follow-on contract on the second project we had been engaged in. That leaves us with just one funded project -- the one I started with by myself more than two years ago. The company has received nearly $400k in funds since I founded it in 2008; outstanding contracts account for nearly $600k more over the next year and a half. I've got seven on payroll; the expected income should keep them employed through at least part of 2012. But what then?
If this contract comes to an end, without anything in the pike, we close up shop and move on. Unlike a job, as an entrepreneur, it all rests squarely on my shoulders. If I don't source and land an income stream, it dries up. It's still pretty much in the basic research stage, nothing yet to sell other than the research itself, and the promise. We've got to deliver a mock-up demo in 4-6 months, and a prototype a year later. I'm confident we can deliver, but I wonder if that will be enough to produce a usable product and receive more funding, to keep the research and company alive.
The second project was not particularly well-defined on their end, but it provided us with six months of funding to engage with the problem. In the end, I feel good about the effort we made, the proposal we presented and the work it defines (enough so, that I plan to keep working on it, regardless of funding). The criticism came down to a few things which didn't really impinge on the quality of our work or the merit of our proposal. It was more a question of their needs and priorities, and disappointingly on their assessment of our ability to commercialize the results.
There's a big difference between academia and the world in which I now reside. The ability to commercialize and sell a product or service is always a factor. Innovation requires risk, but results are rewarded not risk (unless you work in financial services). Interdisciplinarity still haunts me; only now I must add the disciplines of business management and marketing to the pallette.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
A survey from the Pew Research Centre that tested Americans' knowledge of world religions found that atheists and agnostics were better informed about religious teachings and religious leaders than were Protestants and Catholics. Evangelicals scored better on questions solely related to Christianity and the Bible.Draw your own conclusions.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Um... you know, my office faces a main drag in a blue-collar midwestern town, with large glass windows, and the logo prominetly emblazoned on its front. We've got a website that while not giving away trade secrets, makes no effort to hide what we're up to. And despite the seemingly widespread belief among locals, we're not really spies.
The irony of it all is that after years of trying to safely land in academia, I finally found a mechanism via government grants and contracts that funds seed-stage basic research with an eye toward commercialization. The secret to me was that academics are simply not well-informed of the possibilities to engage in basic and applied research beyond the confines and constraints of academic institutions.
I think back to an exchange I had about four years ago with a research professor at a major East Coast U.S. institution, who essentially poo-pooed my suggestion that a lowly recent PhD might have ideas worthy of independent funding. The sad thing is, I believed it, until two years ago when my eyes were opened to the opportunities available to for-profit small businesses (even those that existed only as a lone researcher with untethered ideas and a lot of pluck).
And so, I've proven one of my favorite adages: everyone who got where they are started where they were. My former interlocutor, Karl-Heinz was wrong. At least to some who fund research, innovative ideas and the ability and willingness to pursue them to their logical ends, at the end of the day is really more significant that having convinced an old boys' network to let you play on their field.
If this sounds a bit like sour grapes, so be it. Today, where I am, pursuing my research passions, creating jobs, outside of academia... I couldn't be happier!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
We'll be reclaiming one small bedroom once M leaves. We've been listing things on Craigslist and Freecycle: a weight bench; a second mixer, a couple old kitchen cabinets. We're thinking of unloading our piano (the first piece of furniture we bought together), and getting a smaller electronic keyboard. In the dining room there are still two large bookcases covering an entire wall, that hadn't anywhere else to go. They cramp the space, and are less than half used at the moment. Over the years, we've discarded, sold, given away, or donated, on the order of 500-1000 books. One (even larger) bookcase remains upstairs in the hallway, packed to overflowing. I've got a full bookcase at my office with just about everything related to my present vocation. There are also several large filing cabinets with articles and documents, as well as personal materials.
So, I was revisiting a bottom shelf of one of the large dining room book cases, filled with music: scores, xeroxes, handwritten manuscripts. About 60% now rests in a pile a couple feet high or so, to be donated, discarded, sold, or given away. I . am. no. longer... I... I am... I am no longer a singer! at least not professionally, at least not for a career. There I said it. It's done.
That was... difficult! More difficult than what follows, which to you who have been reading is not news: I am no longer an academic... at least not for now... not for the foreseeable future. What need do I have for obscure bits of music, that I don't plan to sing, or write about? None is what I concluded... and so they stand in a stack two feet high, awaiting another residence.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Though I took the steps myself to get where I am today, like wandering in unfamiliar woods, it's hard to recall just how the path took shape. I have believed that circumstances are not immutable, that we can rise above or alter the conditions we are given. Somehow, along the way, I have done just that (at least for now).
I am comfortable, happy, still in love with my wife and delighted by my children. I am well on the way to paying off the remainder of our student loans, and beginning to save for retirement again.
Severe thunderstorm warning. Watch for lightning!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I cook my own food, as much as possible from scratch. I tend a garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. I pickle my own cucumbers and cabbage, jar my own jams.
At present, I have budgetted to pay off our remaining $30,000 in student loans within the year. We own our car and our van. Our credit cards are paid off each month.
And yet, I am not quite free. I fantasize about opening a bagel shop with my family. What is it I'm running away from?
Work provides me with respect these days. It is exhilirating to pursue my own ideas to their logical ends. Sure, part of me laments that by rights I should still be an academic, with leisure to consider odd avenues of thought, contemplate how they fit into the jigsaw puzzle of problems and solutions, without the constant worry over where our next revenues will come from when the present projects end.
But then, I am happy where I am; happier most likely than I would have been. There is something challenging and positive in the need to focus on practical applications and the short fuse of funding that keeps us just that much on edge.
Yet, I still depend on others. Both for funding and for labor. At times the need for oversight and supervision is oppressing, time consuming, exhausting. But then, I don't really wish to do it all myself. There is drudgery and tedium in getting to an end. I welcome the company along the way. And I trust and hope that my degree of involvement in their work will diminish over time.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Today I submitted the third monthly report on my newer project. (The report due dates are staggered a couple weeks, so I flip flop between the two efforts). We're half way through the first stage contract on the second project. That's all that's guaranteed on this one.
At the end of six months, they get to decide if they want to fund us for another couple years. I think we've better than a 50/50 chance to get the two-year extension, but there's a lot riding on what we deliver over the next few months. Can we convince them that we're really onto something, something untried, but potentially transformative?
It's a new area for us as well. There's certainly a link to the work we've been doing, but the issues are broad and deep. Can I successfully make the case that the problems are extensive but that we've something useful to contribute to their resolution? Only time will tell.
But it's a wonderful position to be in to know that even if not, I've got signed contracts sufficient to sustain myself and my staff (perhaps even another new hire or two) for a couple years.
Yes, I've come to realize that there must be a plan beyond that. I need to see this company to long term viability. At the moment, there really isn't another option (shy of shepherding in New Zealand).
So, I look ahead, and keep on keeping on. Meantime, I'll enjoy my Monday off, and I look forward to a few days or a week at the Lake House in July. All in all, life is pretty good.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
But I feel a bit like my gradeschool self wondering why the teacher wants us to endlessly repeat the tasks we've already mastered. Yes, I know how to multiply 4x3... and 3x4, and 12x8, and 6X9, and 33X627... and. What more will I learn by doing it again, with ceaseless variations?
I realize to keep going in my business, I'll need to prepare and submit more grant and contract proposals, and negotiate collaborations and sales in the commercial arena, and I'll need to hire more staff. It's all still very early stage. Part of me still resents the summary dismissal I received from the Academy, because fundamental research is exceedingly difficult to conduct on a for-profit basis.
My problem is Easy Syndrome is part striving for novelty and challenge, part laziness. It's work to prepare proposals, and keep justifying the worthiness of our efforts, preparing demonstrations that give enough of a taste of the potential of the work to keep others interested.
It's a lot like auditions. No matter how well you performed in your last show, you're starting over, once it's done. Haven't I proven myself already? Do I have to do it again?
Truth is, yes... I do. And so... the green hills of New Zealand seem oh so appealing.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
And.. best I can tell, they were wowed! It was also my first project conference with a full staff. I was on display not only for the project leads, but also for my employees. And it was a full house: 8 of us (me, 2 board members, 2 full-time researchers, 2 part-time staff, and one intern). I took everyone to lunch. A big sigh. I was relieved. And then... what now?
A few reports to file, a second month report for the other first stage project (due next week). But in truth, I feel rather freed, rather unfettered, yet flush with work for a couple years. It's an odd freedom. I'm so accustomed to struggling, that I'm a bit adrift. Silly, I know. But then experience is all we really have to inform our behavior. It just takes a little getting used to.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Nothing in particular... well, the computer acting up is one of them. I think I really need to "rebuild" my computer, but it's so much work to backup and migrate everything, and reinstall all the software. Yeah, I've got an IT assistant whom I pay to do that sort of thing. But my life is on that computer, at least big parts of it. I've got to be sure I have access to everything while the rebuild takes place.
Lots of little things accumulating and conspiring against my contentedness: One employee on medical leave; a second still learning; a contract lead who's less than clear on what he wants, and seems intent on asking us to work on areas of research far from our expertise and distant from what he originally asked for and what we proposed to accomplish; hardware that won't quite do what we expect it to; children who are a bit too hard to deal with at the moment.
Funny thing, all I really want is the freedom to pursue my research, to put my mind and talents to their best use. Damn the Academy for denying me those opportunities where I thought I should expect them; damn myself for the stubbornness to pursue them against the tide of circumstance.
Ha! I guess I make myself laugh too. My three boys at the moment and chasing each other in circles. Pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter. It's been rainy. They're happy at least, not fighting. Far worse things than that.
As life is. At the end of the week or early next week, I'll have in place a line of credit from my business bank. Good thing too. I haven't been able to pay myself since December. I've got about 7 or 8 checks piled up in a drawer awaiting my ability to cash them. The first two invoices (one on each contract) are awaiting payment, and a third should be submitted this week. It'll be a couple months until I catch up. But I will.
The tax accountant has been slow in finalizing our filings. I've had to draw from savings to cover the expected payments. Yes, far worse things than having to pay taxes, and having the savings to draw from.
Life's pretty good I know it. It's just been one of those days.
Friday, April 2, 2010
But I'm here, where I've been the past few years, plugging away. They call this stage of entrepreneurship the firefighter stage. Lots of fires keep flaring up. Let's hope I can keep putting them out, without losing sight of the forest I'm protecting.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I'm getting more settled into delegating tasks, and welcoming the benefits and delights of bringing out the talents of others. I've been marinated in administrivia for what seems like the past year, getting ready for these two contracts. And now, they are upon me.
There's still a transition going on. But I'm getting back into the research more and more, which is such a delight! I realize, as I train and explain, that there is a reason I'm in charge.
I didn't go about it the traditional way. I seemed patently incapable of landing a tenure-track faculty post. Yet, today, I've got my grad students and post-docs. I've got cutting edge, challenging, and extraordinarily rewarding research. And I've got what looks to be two to three years of stability.
What an absolute joy to be here!
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
I hadn't written about it before, but my meeting last week with the agency technical lead on my little contract went well. Well enough that, though it's quite a challenge that's been laid down, I think there's a real chance we could turn that into a second-stage contract as well, which would mean another 2-1/2 years on that project as well. Only time will tell. But I'm willing to give it my best effort.
Only two firms were chosen for the first stage, which means (while it's not guaranteed that a second part will be funded) the chances after recieving a first stage award are very good. They only initiate a project if they expect to fund at least one effort to second stage.
And more possible projects keep presenting themselves. As my friend B* recently commented on this blog, "success with current R&D funding makes it more likely" to gain future funding. Sounds good to me.
One day down: still training and settling. The challenge begins over the next few days, weeks, and months. I'm confident, and excited.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
There are a few triggers to my feelings these days:
- My friend Trillwing
is anxiously awaiting word re: a campus interviewjust received an offer of employment for a t-t job, years after taking a somewhat-tenuous staff position.
- My friend BrightStar has been reflecting on the plight of highly qualified, talented, and capable PhDs seeking jobs on the tenure track.
- My friend Mamae in Translation is dealing with the liminality of her husband's career and her own state as recent PhD/mother/expat/seeker.
- A friend from real life (whom I'm coaching informally) is struggling with a decision to shirk off a rather unsatisfying career as a public school math teacher, and wondering where it will land him.
- And finally, the beginning of my transition from lone researcher with some funding, to owner and director of a research firm with a staff of five, and two funded projects to sustain us for a couple years.
By necessity, I consider my state, test the wind, and wonder what range of freedom I embrace as I set the sails for a new journey. Next week, I fly to meet with my agency technical lead for a new project on a contract I've just received. I wonder at just what he'll expect me to deliver, and whether he'll be satisfied with my proposed approach. What a world of difference, to muse that if I lost the $70,000 this "little" contract represents, I'd be fine any way.
I have now an income easily more than twice what I might have expected (and been happy with) as a freshly hired assistant professor just two or three years ago. I have every reason to believe that this state is secure for at least the next two years (not too different from what I might have expected pre-tenure). I am, on my own, responsible for hiring and supervising a handful of employees, paying them what is in line with reasonable expectations, especially considering that the cost of living here is 15% below the national average.
Truth be told, my commitments are to my research more than to any salary, they are to my family more than any particular career path. Part of me wonders if I too hastily dropped out of the academic race, whether I might not have gotten a tenure-track offer somewhere somewhen.
But I forget how happy I am, how free I am to pursue my own research, how much better compensated I am, how I am able to decide where I live and when or if I'll move, and how much control I have over all those factors. I forget how many committee meetings I don't have sit in on, how I can avoid the worries over tenure, how if a coworker rubs me the wrong way, I have the power to redress it.
Sure, the life of an entrepreneur isn't free of worries. I worry about the path this venture will take. I struggle with a vision for the business, not just the challenges of research for its own sake. I work to balance exciting and meaningful research with the need to produce saleable products. So far, I avoid the draw of seeking outside investment. I fear that an investor with money to put in may be primarily concerned with taking money out. But how long can I sustain this on my own? How long will I be able to attract R&D funding?
But these new worries are my own. I own them with my very being. I am myself, more wholly than ever I was in academia. And here too I am an outsider. Happily enough so!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
There had been a delay in receiving our final payment on the most recently expired contract, but that is finally in the bank as of today. I should also receive the first disbursement check on the loan we're receiving from the state today. It's good to see the bank balances start to trip upwards again.
The credit cards are being paid off. I've been able to write myself a paycheck. The last pay I gave myself was mid-November. Now I'm paid through the end of last year. Once these contracts start flowing, I hope to pay myself regularly.
But other expenses and payroll take precedence. New hires arrive in just a few weeks. I'm doing my best to prepare for their arrival, and for these projects to begin in earnest. The test begins when the waiting ends.
Monday, February 1, 2010
No, things change in life. Each morning a new sun rises; each day a new person looks back in the mirror. There's a bounce in my step these days, though not one immune to ups and downs. I still complain, and bristle at the waits.
It's been nearly one year since I completed my first six month contract as an independent researcher. It was about four months later that I received the green light for the second six month contract (supposedly transitional funding to get to the two year). And now it's been more than a month since that contract expired. I wait for the big two year in hand. Someday soon, I suppose.
It's been more than five months since my firm was selected to receive a separate six month contract from another agency. I wait too for that contract to be issued (perhaps today, tomorrow?). I grumble, yes. I haven't paid myself since November. I'm floating credit cards for a month or two, because we don't have the free cash to pay them off.
Last week, I was finally notified that we would be receiving a low-interest rate loan from the state to cover the gap between our expenses and the payment we'll receive on these (still pending) contracts. A loan in the end, not a grant. Funny thing, the loan is because we're further along (i.e. grants are for those companies waiting to hear about selection). We've already been selected to receive funding, so they suppose we'll be able to pay it back more assuredly.
I can bemoan these things, or just accept them. In light of where I am, how far I've come, the opportunities that loom ahead of me, the chances to pursue my passions, and hire and support others in that endeavor, it hardly seems appropriate to dwell on negatives.
So, I wait... but I fill my time with tasks, myriad tasks, administrative, and some creative. I'm thinking ahead to my next 5-10 year plan. I wonder if that will be reached in three like my last one?
Friday, January 15, 2010
How many times was I the receiver of that information? It doesn't make it easier.
Yesterday, I also received a call that the contract offer for my new project had been approved. I was sent the offerer's "position" for acceptance, because they had to make some modifications, to accomodate an additional cost item they were asking for. Their modification came in the form of a reduction of budgetted hours.
I have no objection because I'll likely be able to realize some cost savings elsewhere, without having to compromise the hours needed to accomplish the tasks. For one, I have accepted offers from two new hires, at a slightly lower pay scale than I had budgetted for (assuming I might need to negotiate with them). Those two employees are starting in about a month. One more full-time position remains open.
This contract is structured, unlike the two-year, as a fixed price contract, meaning I invoice based on the work accomplished rather than my expenses. So it all works out in the wash. I expect the contract itself this afternoon for my signature.
I expect the big two-year contract to arrive within the next two to three weeks. As far as I understand, everything has been approved. We're just waiting for the various signatures and processing to take place before the final draft is presented to me.
I'm ready for the transformation, if but a bit apprehensive about the changes. A few years ago, I was salivating over a possible dean's post at a community college, which there was a snowball's chance in hell I'd get. Now what I've got, in just about all measurable terms, exceeds what that position had to offer.
I wrote then about how it might side-track me from my mid-term goals. Now I've met them. I looked at that pay scale then as all but unattainable. Now I've exceeded it. I worried about being a manager. Now, I'm not only the manager, but the chief executive.
But the real transformation is about to begin. I crawled into this cocoon a caterpillar. The next two years will see if this butter can fly.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
But here, now... I'm free, and involved. My research projects are self-directed, though with ever an eye to market needs (however that market is defined). What are the real world problems out there that touch on my research interests (there are many!)? Which of those can I bite off and chew? Which of those can I attack and resolve? How can I present my work to convince others to support that research, that I will succeed in the effort? So far I've done a pretty good job at that.
Yesterday, I held my second daylong interviews session. The first one, in November, resulted in one new full-time hire (starting this Spring). Hopefully yesterday's session will result in one or two more new hires. I am decided on an offer to one of them; the second I'm still deliberating over. It's all in my hands. That's a burden, and a pleasure.
We passed through the agency accounting audit with "no major deficiencies" noted. Everything is moving into place; everything is just clicking. I'm no longer really waiting for the bad news to arrive. But I am curious whether it'd even perturb me at this point. It's like having the car you always dreamed of, but understanding that it may get a scratch or a bump now and again.
At a recent entrepreneurship gathering, I developed a new image of my relationship to the business. I used to think of my business as being coterminus with my research. But I decided a better image is that the business is the vehicle I drive to carry me and my research from one location to the next. There may come a time when I outgrow the transport, take my things out of the trunk, and pass it along to a new driver, or the junk yard. For now, the vehicle is quite dandy. I think I can handle a few dents and dings.