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Curriculum Vitae.

27 April 2017

My career path has been a weird winding one which I would recommend no one emulate. Starting back at the beginning, back in high school, everyone thought I had a lot of potential and put me in all the accelerated classes. For whatever reason, scholastic mastery was never really important to me though. I didn’t work very hard. I worked hard enough to get B+’s. Parents and teachers were often vexed. But my understanding of the material seemed strong.

I got into a reasonably fancy college on the strength of those grades, pretty good test scores (I got a 1310 on the SAT back when there were only two sections and 1600 was perfect). Not great scores. Pretty good. Not great grades. Pretty good. But amazing recommendations. Everyone agreed that I had big potential, it seemed. Also, I wasn’t asking for financial aid (thanks, Grandpa!).

In college I did the same as in high school. I got B+’s, mostly. A’s in my major, for the most part. C’s in some breadth classes. Overall, I averaged a B+. But my mastery of the material seemed good, and a few professors took a shine to me. I also tried to circulate with the smarter kids. I had several friends, like LawnBoy and PanurgeJr, who were there on full merit-based academic scholarships.

My advisor thought he saw something in me and offered me a fully-funded graduate assistantship. I was also offered a position in the school of engineering at Columbia. I stayed where I was out of fear and depression. And it was probably the right decision. In graduate school I got B+’s. That’s less acceptable in graduate school, but B+ is as hard as I’m willing to work. I’ve never discovered a diligence inside that lets me do better than that.

In graduate school I discovered alcohol, and I spent 10 years “studying” and doing engineering research while drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, basically. My advisor eventually pulled my stipend to force me to finish. It still took two years. Then I did nothing for two years. I was trying to start a business, but I was failing. I participated in a health care advisory board without compensation. But basically, I was unemployed, floundering, and useless. And drunk every day.

It was around this time, February of 2008, that I went to an inpatient rehab, sobered up, and was offered a job through that advisory board. It was at the VHA, and paid about like a postdoc, though I was a staff employee. I worked for the chief of staff of a hospital who was also a full professor of both engineering and medicine. Like so many others have (but I never did) he saw something in me.

Sober now, I worked more effectively. But really, still, at the B+ level. That has never changed. I helped my boss write grants and publish. I wrote a small grant of my own and won it, under his guidance. Eighteen months later, I got promoted. Still technically staff, I was a principal investigator now. My salary almost doubled. I wrote and won another grant, about an R03. I was in negotiations to join the faculty part time at a local research university.

Then my boss quit. The new hospital leadership did not give the first fuck about research. I was told to cover my salary with grant fund instantly or I would be let go. There was no way to do it. I started looking for jobs. The part time faculty position was approved, but hung up in funding limbo. It wasn’t going to start in time for me to avoid unemployment.

I reached out through my vendors and found that MECMC – my current employer – was looking for someone to do what I do, in a 100% operational context. I interveiwed and was offered the position. It meant moving a thousand miles from home. Overplaying my hand, I told them I wanted to keep 10% of my time protected to write manuscripts of the work I was doing. They agreed.

And so I joined the staff at MECMC. It’s an academic hospital but I was far from the research apparatus. The faculty saw me as what I was: a low-level administrative functionary with unique technical skills. But gradually I moved up. Promoted twice, on a managerial track, in three years. I petitioned for and was given permission to hire an underling engineer. A young man with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Sort of like a student.

I also wrote tiny little grants and won them. I petitioned the IRB for principal investigator privileges. I wrote manuscripts of nearly every project I worked on. I published my operational work as research in medical journals. The 10% protected time vanished by fact if not by intent: I had too much to do. But I managed expectations well. And so while publishing and grant-writing were not part of my job, I did them anyway.

I reached out to the faculty here, and at VFU. I made friends with professors. I did side projects with academics I met on twitter. I did side projects alone. I published them because they interested me, and because I wanted to be able to return to the world of academics one day. I wanted to create something that everyone says doesn’t exist: a position on hard money that allows me to pick my projects, write grants and papers at leisure, and make a difference in my local environment.

Now I’ve met the leader of the PHRG. He loved my work and methods. He invited me to become a Research Scientist in his group. Still a staff position, not faculty. But a principal investigator and a nearly-academic title. Hard money. And a champion to find me that faculty title soon. It is happening.

My CV has gaps and embarrassing inclusions and omissions. It only has a little grant money won. No major journals in my bibliography. I have a good school there, but my prior institution is not fancy or prestigious. MECMC is. I am 42 years old and I made a mess of my 20s and early 30s. I’ve had to claw back from unemployment and alcoholism to a place, almost a decade later, where I am within striking distance of academia again.

From something I once didn’t even know I wanted – an academic legacy – to thinking it was lost, to now being on the cusp of it again. I’ve scratched and scraped and made wrong turns and been thwarted. I’ve had people advance me without my having earned it, and I’ve had people dispose of me despite obvious merit. This pathway is not in any of the manuals. This is not how anyone would tell you to build an academic career.

But this is how I’ve done it. This is how I’m doing it. One stupid mistake at a time. One audacious request. One unsupportable demand. One side project. One manuscript. One little grant application. One little extra thing. Telling the people who employ me what I want. What I want more than money.

I want to make a difference. I want to have a legacy. I want to have a retirement ceremony where people expect a speech. And I want to be the proof: it’s not impossible. There’s always another way. You don’t have to follow the path they say you have to follow. Bad luck doesn’t have to end your dreams.

Once lost in a labyrinth of depression and addiction, underperforming and constantly making bad decisions, I finally and slowly turned. In the past 9 years, I have mazily progressed toward the thing I have coveted. I’m not there yet. But it is happening.

Never give up.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 April 2017 10:30

    Your story is miraculous. You are one of my favorite examples of a sober life. I’ll bet there will be plenty more twists and turns and unexpected destinations in your future. I’m sure as long as you stay sober, they will all be good.

  2. 27 April 2017 12:48

    I’m Very happy for you, I hope this position is what you want it to be (or that you can mold it in that direction). You are making a difference and turning all that potential that others saw I. You into reality.

  3. 27 April 2017 13:23

    Thank you. As I approach a year sobriety and my marriage coming to an end, I am continuously looking for hope in the long term. I look around the rooms and see proof that things do get better, even for alcoholics with 20+ years. Your blog is appreciated.

    • Dr24 permalink
      27 April 2017 17:59

      I got divorced in sobriety. It was worth it.

  4. 20 May 2017 12:24

    I think I recognize this guy. Last time he was on tv, he had a bomb — great acting that was. This time I’m a bit disappointed. No bomb, and part of his presentation in Arabic, which I find a very difficult language to understand. At least I understand why no one showed up in that theatre.

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