Tuesday, February 16, 2010

...and what sort of entrepreneur are we?

So many thoughts rush upon me. As is my practice, I'll just commence writing, then sort it all out. But, let me first say that the Armenian stuffed peppers I just served for dinner last night were a success.

There are a few triggers to my feelings these days:
  • My friend Trillwing is anxiously awaiting word re: a campus interview just 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!


undine said...

Two funded contracts and director of your own firm, with research you really like to boot: all this sounds wonderful, but it's your third-from-last sentence that even more strongly suggests you made a great choice.

BrightStar (B*) said...

I'm so sorry about posting in a way that triggered feelings for you. :(

Regarding your friend from real life, I can imagine that I relate in some ways based on my past career experiences.

Given my experience from the past two days on a review panel for grant proposals, success with current R&D funding makes it more likely that you would be funded again in the future. So, I have hope for you and your work!

From the outside, I am envious of your autonomy. Sometimes the service aspects of my job can get overwhelming -- there are so many demands that can keep me away from research work. So, I am happy to hear that you are celebrating the autonomy that you have right now.

I wish you all the best. I admire the risks you've taken and the priorities you have (like family first).