Friday, February 23, 2018

Brief Detour for Despair

So I have a cunning plan, and I'm working through it, and it's fine, mostly.  (Right now I'm still feeling residually quite ill, which has probably upset my equanimity.)  But sometimes, I wonder if it's going to do any good.  Where am I going with all this?  What is it going to lead to?  Will it ever END?

(The whole point of the plan is that most of the probable outcomes are acceptable outcomes to me.  So mainly I think the uncertainty gets me sometimes; and when I read job ads, which, here, are ludicriously and unreasonably specific, I despair.)

All those years ago, I chose to step off the escalator of Your Career Here, Step Right Along.  Regardless of how I feel about the choice now, it's done and past taking back.  The thing about the Career Escalator is it can be a very straight path.  You know where you are, you can see where you're going, and you can see how to get there, more or less.

Well, I feel like I not only stepped off, but then wandered through an abandoned warehouse for a time, found a thrift shop where someone had bought 200 tons of scrap metal and sorted it by type*, paused to buy a large metal bowl, and then found myself blinking in the sunlight in the middle of one of those labyrinthine Brutalist government building**, with no idea where the escalators got to, or indeed, if I was willing to find another.

I'll let you know when I find my way back out.  It's somewhere past the disassembled washers and those five tubas with no valves.

* This is a real thing near me.  Imagine 15 feet of Benares ware, six disassembled tubas, 27 identical lawn ornaments, 100 feet of bicycles....

** I have also been mildly lost in this actual building.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Today I Learned:

... that the reason this year's influenza vaccine is not very effective is this:

"The egg-adapted version of this viral strain lacks the new putative glycosylation site. Here, we biochemically demonstrate that the HA antigenic site B of circulating clade 3C.2a viruses is glycosylated. We show that antibodies elicited in ferrets and humans exposed to the egg-adapted 2016–2017 H3N2 vaccine strain poorly neutralize a glycosylated clade 3C.2a H3N2 virus. Importantly, antibodies elicited in ferrets infected with the current circulating H3N2 viral strain (that possesses the glycosylation site) and humans vaccinated with baculovirus-expressed H3 antigens (that possess the glycosylation site motif) were able to efficiently recognize a glycosylated clade 3C.2a H3N2 virus."

In other words, when they grow the influenza virus in eggs, the H3N2 strain has a different surface antigen profile, and so it's a bad vaccine, and it's always going to be a bad vaccine.  Most early flu activity was influenza A/ H3N2, so thus far, the vaccine has not been especially effective.  (Overall the report is around 30% but that is across all strains; some estimates place it as 10% for H3N2. Yikes!)

(It is still better than nothing!  Our whole family got flu shots in September!  However, it's not very effective. Now what we need is robust government funding for better vaccine development... ha, ha, ha.)

Friday, February 09, 2018

Never What I'd Expect

Dear readers, I have influenza. I am vilely ill, the children are catching it, today is my birthday (and the spouse's), and my mother is still out of the country.

The weirdest part, however, is the intermittent auditory hallucinations. (They started before the antivirals, so I can only conclude that viruses are weird.)

Thursday, February 08, 2018

A Slight But Vital Distinction

Out with some work colleagues.

Colleague 1: "I mean, do they ever fire someone with tenure?"
Me: "Well, there was that guy with the federal grant fraud. And fucking a student will do it."
Colleague 2, overhearing: "What do you mean? I fuck around with the students so the time!"*
Me: "No, no. FUCKING the students. Very bad."

*As in jokes and sarcasm, not as in lewd behavior.

Monday, February 05, 2018

1800s Yelling At Clouds

Y'all, I've been working on the Anti-Slavery Project transcriptions whenever I can't bear to grade/ program any more* and it is really interesting.  It's all this correspondence between abolitionists, with personal notes about carpet and deliveries and houseguests mixed in with a whooooole variety of abolitionist propaganda, business, and organizing.

However!  The one I  have just done was written from Paris in 1838 by Some Dude who a) has truly atrocious handwriting (separate from the usual manuscript whatever-ness); b) doesn't cross 't' except when he does; c) doesn't believe in punctuation; and d) sounds like a complete nutter.  I have gotten through two pages of unpunctuated rambling and... wow.

(It's a lot harder to transcribe letters that don't make any sense, turns out.)

Takes all sorts, I guess.

* I took a semester-long class on Reading Terrible Old Handwriting (i.e. Paleography) when I was studying abroad.  It basically consisted of 'Here's how to start, now go read manuscripts for about 100 hours, bye.'

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Career Reboot, Five-Year Plan

My work life so far looks like this:

2002-2008: Grad school
2008-2010: Bicycle Company
2010-2014: Extremely Bored Housewifery
2014-2018: Adjuncting Eternally

While I joke about it a great deal (renovations as a cure for boredom!), I also do not intend to keep doing this forever.

Last year, my long-term plan was: 1) do online databasing program thing; 2) ? ; 3) profit.

Then I picked up a lecture, which rendered me less bored but more despairing - I could, in fact, actually do this forever.  (OH, GOD.)  While the database-and-programming parts of the online thing are great, the MBA type stuff makes me stabby.

I thought about it at great length over the last months (while plastering the ceiling endlessly and going to PT and ferrying children around): What do I have that's good?  What do I value in work - what do I want my work to contain?  And what do I need to add or find, to feel that my work overall has value and meaning to me?

The current work situation has:
  • value: it is paid, but part-time
  • meaning:  I believe that the teaching I do is worthwhile and adds to my personal satisfaction and the world (in some exceedingly small way). 
  • convenience, proximity, and a fairly high degree of stability.* 
  • no summers (early May through beginning of September!  This is a LOT of vacation! Often too much...)
  • pleasant and professional colleagues
The current work situation lacks:
  • full-time value
  • enough intellectual stimulation to turn my brain on
  • variety
  • the ability to advance me towards anything else.
The database program:
  • costs value (I pay money for it)
  • lacks intellectual stimulation
  • but may advance my goals.
[I remain deeply, deeply ambivalent on working full-time.  We don't need the money - but I don't have a full-time income, and I feel insecure.  I like the flexibility - but I'm bored.  The children are small - but in a couple years they'll all be in school.  If a great job was available here, I would take it - but a mediocre full-time job doesn't seem, net, better than what I have now.]

SO, obviously, what I lack is mainly a) intellectual work and b) a clear path towards anything I definitively want, work-wise.

My five-year plan (now in year two!) is this:
  1. Database thing.  Work on the certificate, but slowly; for IT work at the university, working-on-it is probably as good as having-it, given the PhD I already have.
  2. Teach myself Python, then C++.  This is intellectually stimulating!  It is hard enough to be interesting!
  3. Use the programming to collaborate with the spouse on his research projects.  This is also intellectually stimulating, and will give me practical programming experience, i.e., a marketable skill.  It helps him for a variety of reasons (including undergrad turnover and, you know, the fact that I'm actually a trained scientist), so then my life is better because we're all happier.
  4. Even if all of this never gets me a different job, and I think it might eventually, I'm still happier in the meanwhile and most of the outcomes are at least modest victory conditions.
What most inspires me to despair is feeling stuck, feeling like all the other choices I have are unattractive or unacceptable ones (no, I am not commuting 90 minutes each way! no, I do not want to travel 50%! no, I do not want to move to Germany!).  This is my plan to feel, and maybe be, less stuck.  Wish me luck.

* Highly unusual for adjuncting, but this is a small town with an extremely limited labor pool.  

Saturday, January 27, 2018

FMB: Middle Age Is Very Freeing

I have a pair of bright orange shoes, which bring me joy because they are bright and I love bright colors:

I wear them with my carefully cultivated work-persona clothes, which I choose to meet three criteria: available for cheap; will prevent injury in lab; and convey "I'm in charge here." They're usually neutral colors with bright accents.  

Anyhow, last semester, one of my (male) students looked at my black-dress-and-grey-blazer-and-orange shoes outfit and sighed.  "Dr. S, My life goal is to have enough confidence to wear orange shoes like that.  Those are great shoes."

I very nearly told him "All you have to do is not give a !@%# what anyone thinks, dear. Give it time."