Feb 4, 2010


My recent absence can be explained. One, I had a visitor. Two, I'm neck deep in data.

The visitor was great - a friend from Toronto who spent two years in Michigan with me. It was just so good to catch up. I had thought that I was lacking enough social contact after my move to Montreal. So I was truly looking forward to her coming over, in order to seep into friendship chat in a way that I haven't been able to do for months. This part was great. But I came to realize that I'm not that short of a friends/social life. Instead, I've been missing good academic contact.

By that I mean talking to someone who really "gets it" when it comes to papers and research. So much so that we spent about 4 hours one evening running models for her on my software, and many more hours discussion both our research ideas: how to move forward, what to do about certain obstacles, who to work with, ways of tackling an "introduction", you name it.

I had not truly realized how lucky I was to be at Michigan, surrounded by people that "speak" Academics. There, I had my Toronto friend, my running buddy, several lunch-time brownbag seminars I could attend, librarians who bent over backwards for you, etc. And while I don't want to discount the research being done at my current university, it's simply not the same. Standards are different. Emphases are different. PhD students lack drive. Librarians aren't as clued in. People don't "speak" about their research in the same way. There is no sharing. Not in the way there was at Michigan. And until now I didn't realize how much I miss it.

As for reason number two: data. I love working with data. I will swear that doing data work is the anti-dote to depression. Even so, there are boundaries to my love. Those limits hit me when I close my eyes and see typefont in the colors of my statistics software (black and green), or see diagrams from my network software (circles and arrows). That happened a few times this week, mostly at about 11pm at night.

The rest of the time I'm happily coding, merging and analyzing away. The trick is to overcome logic puzzles. Like, oh, if I replace data from 2009 with that of 2008 (because the 2009 is "current" which was really 2008 and not 2009), what happens to the data? Does it create an unnatural "jump" from 2007 to 2008? If so, does it matter? Should I try to fix this? Or, since "current" was really 2008 anyhow, it makes no difference? ... You see what I mean. My life exists of such decisions, and has done for the last 2 weeks or so.

The following week will be busy. Need to review lots of papers for the Big Annual Conference which will be held in Montreal this year (no travel, hurray!), and I have another journal article to review as well. So in the mean time I'm saying an emphatic "NO" to newspaper articles, becoming a media contact, and other things that don't progress my research in any way at all. I recite the "JUST SAY NO" words in my head daily.

Oh, and then there is skiing, of course. Three, night skiing.


  1. So, the question becomes: Is being a big fish in a small pond a better fit for you than being a small fish in big pond? I'd wager the former, but I'm curious.

  2. Interesting question and not sure I know the answer myself. Both are kind of fun. Being a small fish in a big pond gives you anonymity and freedom, but being a big fish in a small pond gives you the opportunity to implement changes. As far as academia goes, it is pretty intimidating to be around really really big fish (and lots of them), but it's a lot of fun stimulation. It just has a negative impact on the self-confidence.