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PI Anxiety.

30 July 2013

I’m in the process of hiring two student interns for my project here at MECMC. It’s a simulation study of one of our so-called luminary programs. One of the things that we do here more, and better, than any other hospital in the world. It’s really exciting to be a part of it. It’s humbling and gratifying and satisfying and terrifying all at the same time that they’re telling me, “Here is the finest program of its kind in the world. Make it better.” Well, gulp.

First, I have to hire some students. I’ll be calling three or four for interviews on Thursday. I have a number of VERY impressive resumes. But I’ve never hired anyone before. My previous funded grants were either small enough that they only paid my salary, or bought time from people already employed in my department, or were aimed at equipment and software. This is the first time I’m going out and finding people and asking them to come work for me for money. So I’m asking out there: how do you hire minions?

I need this to go well if I’m going to convince my office to let me pursue other and bigger grants. When I was a drunk, just graduating, I told people that I had no interest in academics or writing papers. And I didn’t. I wanted to be a consultant, in business for myself, and make lots of money. I rapidly discovered that it wasn’t that easy. Especially drinking the way I did. I was setting myself up for total disaster. And, arguably, I suffered that disaster, being unemployed for two years and then shipping off to alcohol rehab. Of course, it was the doorway to a new life.

A life in which I am, against all odds, a modestly successful academic. I have a couple of papers in a few basically decent journals. I’ve won a couple of moderately-sized grants. I wouldn’t make tenure anywhere. But my CV needn’t be printed on toilet paper, either.

And of course, I’m not a real academic. My academic title is “Adjunct Assistant Professor” at an institution I no longer have any real affiliation with, and do not expect to again (it expires next June 30). I’m hoping to get a new appointment at VFU or another of ECC’s large number of excellent schools somehow in the next year. We’ll see. It feels like an achievable but ambitious goal. One probably strongly associated with my ability to perform well on this grant, which was funded by VFU’s medical school and business school in a joint venture. I think there’s a reasonable chance I can offer to teach a course on simulation or operations research and get an adjunct position.

Why do I want it? I’m arrogant. I’m self-aggrandizing. I look around at my friends on twitter with great positions and impressive bibliographies and I feel ashamed of myself. I get a case of the “if-onlies”. If only I hadn’t been an alcoholic. I’d remember my math. I wouldn’t have wasted a decade of my life doing essentially nothing of value. I wouldn’t have abandoned my ambition for so long. If only I’d… been better. Smarter. If only I’d made better decisions.

But what then? Would I be any happier? I doubt it. I admit to shallowness. But I don’t think I’d be any happier in my personal life if I’d barged through academia the way it kind of looked like I would when I was a young graduate student. My life is fantastic today. I’m just perpetually unsatisfied that I don’t have what I look at in others and think I want.

From the outside, what other people have is always compelling. Prestige, Impact. But I can’t know how those people who I envy and admire feel unless they tell me. And those who do have told me the same stories everyone tells. Work is hard and stressful. Anxiety provoking. Having more or fancier publications, and more grant money may make your life a little easier, but it doesn’t make you happier in the aggregate. Life is life. It’s hard.

Trying to set aside my expectations for myself, my regrets about my wasted third decade, and my envy of others is a constant battle for me. I did some good work in my fourth decade, and I feel ready, as I look forward, to do something of value as I continue on. If I can figure out how to hire and train these students. If I can just keep from wasting their time.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. lax permalink
    30 July 2013 10:16

    My boss had a great advice for me: Just make them comfortable and talk during the interview… soon you will know what they are.

  2. Kelly permalink
    31 July 2013 19:25

    Good luck on hiring the ‘minions’ 🙂 I’m sure, once you’re interviewing, you’ll get a good sense of what you are looking for…or maybe, quicker, what you’re not looking for.

  3. Syd permalink
    1 August 2013 10:43

    First, I wouldn’t think of them as minions. That’s a bit much. I would think of them as people who are going to make the project successful; people I need; and people who will ultimately make the institution, me, the grant and themselves look good.
    When I interview, I have a list of duties and job requirements. I provide a synopsis of the project and what the duties will be. I ask a lot of questions about their skills. And I hope that they will ask questions. Ultimately, it is about following my gut feeling. Can this person work as part of a team? Does this person have the skills needed? Did the person ask questions and seem interested in the work? Lots to think about but in the long run, it is what your gut tells you. JMO.

    • 1 August 2013 16:37

      Oh don’t worry! The “minions” comment was very tongue-in-cheek. I’ve mentored students before. I don’t ask them to do anything except research, for which they are highly valued.

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