Friday, September 11, 2015

Becoming One of 'Them'

Last Thursday I found out that a paper I had submitted for a conference had been accepted. Subdued as I was externally -- the most I allowed myself was a small "oh yeah" -- internally I was doing cartwheels.

I've been in academe for what's running to be a good seven years now, almost as long as I was with IBM. I hadn't planned on staying this long, but here I still am. I have one foot in administration (in research, ha!) and the other railing and kvetching against How Things Are Done. The time they let me lead the department, oh, I really shook things up. Good thing they took me out, otherwise I really would have done permanent damage.

The point being: for all this time I've spent in a university, I still don't really feel fully part of it. A university, I've found out, is a lifelong calling; when I look at some of my colleagues, this is really true. Their careers have been with the university throughout.

And so this is where my outsider status comes from. I've had a good ten years in industry, and I spent some years after that meandering -- in the family business, in writing and publishing, and around parts of the Philippines on a bike. I've had my turn at the hard knocks and I've developed my own outlook and philosophy.

I took up a Master's because it was expected and it was the proverbial union card. I'm still eyeing a PhD suspiciously because, though it means a higher pay bracket, it's almost a sure track to permanent administration. While I do like doing my kind of creative damage, I'm not sure it's worth the hassle. And if I do have to do a PhD, I'd like to do it in a field I can truly immerse myself in, not simply because it's expected. Age, however, isn't really working in my favor.

Back to the paper in the conference. I'm elated because it's my first. Sure, I've published in magazines and books, but this is my first academic paper in a computer science conference. I feel less of an impostor now, thanks to this new validation. I admit, I admit, like the feeling. However, it's also accompanied by a sense of dread. I'm becoming one of 'them.' Heaven help me, I'm already thinking of the next paper to write.