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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

it is done

I don’t usually do posts about my personal life. however, there are few events quite so momentous, and since this particular event spans both the personal and the academic, I thought it appropriate (nay, necessary!) to include here. this is also a bit delayed, but still relevant.

on June 19th, 2009, I became Dr. Baumer. that is, I submitted the final version of my dissertation to the UC library (more specifically, the UMI website whereat I could submit a .pdf of my dissertation, thus sparing me the procurement, and printing of my dissertation on, 100% cotton acid-free 20-25 lb. watermarked dissertation paper) and the accompanying paperwork to UC Irvine’s graduate division. I still haven’t become accustomed to people calling me “Dr. Baumer,” as several people, including my father, my cousin, my advisor, several friends, and the administrative assistant at graduate division, have done by this time. because of scheduling details, I actually walked in the commencement ceremony on June 6, even though my defense was on June 15, because UCI only holds one commencement per year, at the end of spring quarter, for all those graduating any time during that calendar year. thus, even before I was official Dr. Baumer, people were already using that appellation for me.

I had wondered from time to time if I’d feel different. based on what I’d gleaned from others’ experiences, I suspected that I wouldn’t, and indeed, I don’t feel much different. but at the same time, I do, although it’s not a recent thing. thinking back over my time in graduate school (the details of which I will not recount or reminisce here, but were all told quite fabulous), the times that I noticed “feeling different” were quite before I completed the requirements for my degree. there were two I recall specifically.

the first was during my first year, in fact my very first quarter, of grad school. I could feel myself changing, changing rapidly, in ways I could not with specific words describe but could with the utmost certainty feel. in addition to moving such a great distance to California—not just physically, but also socially, emotionally, etc.—I ended old relationships, began new ones, found new friends, strengthened ties with old friends, and reconsidered the very constitution of friendship. I was becoming new, becoming someone new, a new and different person, but, somewhat paradoxically, I simultaneously felt as if I was becoming more myself.

(I must admit, at this point, that I’ve been reading Dave Eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and can feel myself being influenced by his writing style, if only in a pale, imitative sort of way)

the second was some time during the midst of my graduate studies. again, rather than being tied to a specific moment, it was a change that happened over a longer period of time but still felt rapid and sudden. during this time, I experienced a number of realization, realizations that I have been subsequently told are integral to success in graduate school. (1) I realized that I knew more about research than did my advisor, in technical, philosophical, epistemic, and other ways. this was a bizarre sort of realization, even given the fact that my advisor’s primary training (i.e., his undergraduate and master’s degrees) was in biology and animation. why I expected that he’d be knowledgeable about the technical details of my work, I’m not certain. this is not to say that he was unhelpful; quite to the contrary, his was integral advice in getting me “unstuck” during crucial periods, and his was invaluable encouragement in enabling me to finish. this realization was closely coupled with the next, that (2) I cared more about my research than did my advisor. similarly, this is not to say that he did not care, but rather than I was the single most important factor, the driving force behind getting my research done. the third realization is one that’s difficult to express in words, but is potentially the most important, likely most associated with, and potentially definitive of, becoming Dr. So-and-so. (3) I was, as a researcher, intellectually independent. yes, obviously, like any other researcher, I consulted with my colleagues and superiors. yes, obviously, like any other researcher, I bounced ideas off of friends and family. however, I didn’t feel as if I was working for anyone. I was working for myself, following my own agenda, pursuing the research questions in which I was interested. I suspect that some may enter graduate school with such a feeling, knowing at least generally, if not precisely, the path they wish to pursue; and I further suspect that many more leave graduate school without experiencing such a feeling, following rather the belief that they are largely a cog in the research machine of their advisor, their institution, their funding source, or some other overseer. however, it seems to me that such a feeling of intellectual independence is the defining trait, the raison d’être, of an academic, and I count myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience that feeling.

as one would assume, I’ve been quite busy over the past several months completing my dissertation work, which is partially the reason for my lack of blogging. I will try to return to something of my previous pace (generally averaging around one post every other week or so), but I make no promises. I’m writing this post on a plane on the way back from Ireland (via a layover in Amsterdam), constituting something resembling an (all-too-brief) post-dissertation vacation. starting July 6, I will be beginning began a position as an Assistant Project Scientist (which is more-or-less a big name for a post-doc) at UCI, largely doing follow-up research on my dissertation research, but also starting in on all the projects and ideas I’ve had to keep on the back burner while finishing up my dissertation. thus, while I envision having slightly more free time as a post-doc, since I won’t be worried about passing quals, completing advancements, or writing/defending dissertations, but I’m assuming I’ll be super busy doing research, mentoring/supervising undergraduates, and trying to figure out what it is that I’ll be doing next.

that seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. whenever I mention that I just finished my Ph.D., people almost invariably ask me “so what are you doing next?” while the later half of the above paragraph describes the near future, I’ve also spent a great deal of time thinking about the more distant future, as in, what I’m going to do after I complete my time as a post-doc. ::insert a long pause while I stare at the clouds out the window contemplating my future::. I entered graduate school, in fact my very motivation to apply to graduate school was, to become a professor. while I’ve had and continue to have certain misgivings about that occupation (if not about academia in general), a tenure-track position at a research institution seems the most amenable to pursuing the goals I want to pursue. with the above-mentioned feeling of being a (relatively) independent intellectual, I’ve been spending a great deal of time considering just what those goals are, and the questions and issues towards which I find myself most drawn (the details of which I won’t explore in this already (almost too) long blog-post) strike me as best pursued in an academic/university context. as any sane person in my position would, I intend to keep an open mind about potential paths to pursue, but for now, what’s “next” is burrowing into some serious research, publishing like crazy, and keeping an ear open for academic research positions. (how pragmatic, I know, but what did you expect?).

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  • well played, sir. (claps)

    By Blogger Rubikzube*, at Tuesday, July 07, 2009 2:26:00 PM  

  • Little known fact: Dave Egger's little brother (who plays a large role in that book) plays ultimate (for Cal, and also on the team I played on last year, Monster.)

    Anyways, congratulations Dad... or should I say Dr. Dad at this point? Hope to see you out at Sunday pickup more often now.


    By Blogger Box, at Tuesday, July 07, 2009 3:57:00 PM  

  • Oh shooooot! Dr. Baumer!! I guess you can't get mad when I call you that anymore :) Congratulations, my friend! This is a well deserved accomplishment, and certainly time well spent. Enjoy your sweet sweet vacation :)

    By Anonymous Bryant, at Tuesday, July 07, 2009 5:33:00 PM  

  • At long last the insanity comes to an end...or is it merely a change from one insanity to the next? Only time will tell.....
    Well done, from BS to PhD in only five years.

    By Blogger Lifelong Learner, at Friday, July 24, 2009 6:50:00 PM  

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