Skip to content

Want Me to Come Talk?

24 April 2017

I have a vacation coming up. I’m taking May 13-29 off for my first 2+ week vacation in three years. I travel a lot, but often on a short time frame (our trip to Hong Kong was about 118 hours including 32 hours of flights). Recently, trips that felt a bit like vacations also involved a big working component. My trips to Rome and Saskatoon were both for conferences where I was giving talks.

This time, it’s a real vacation, but our flights are May 18-29. That gives me a full five days at the beginning to do whatever I want. BB will still be working, and so I’m looking to do something solo, and have fun. I would love to go give a talk somewhere. So, do you have a need for a speaker and a venue? Are you interested in having me come speak? I’ll even pay my own way.

Potential topics:

  1. Alcoholism and Recovery
  2. Computer Simulation (applied, not theoretical)
  3. Hospital Operations – using computer simulation
  4. Public Health – using computer simulation
  5. Health/Public Policy – using computer simulation
  6. Gender and Racial Bias in Peer Review – using computer simulation
  7. How to Build a Pretend Academic Career

You may get the feeling that mostly I can talk about computer simulation. This is because applied computer simulation is really the only think I’m an expert in from a professional perspective. But I’d be happy to talk about alcoholism as well. Or academic careerism from the outside.

Just a thought. If you’re interested in arranging an audience and a venue (need an emergency Grand Rounds fill-in?) I’d be happy to come blather for an hour. Monday or Tuesday the 15th or 16th of May.

The Plan Proceeding!

21 April 2017

Today I met with the director of MECMC’s population health research group. I had applied for an Associate Professor position with his outfit, which is a collaborative unit between MECMC and VFU. When I applied for the professorship, I knew it was an unlikely stretch. But what it did was get me an invited talk. I gave my talk, and frankly, I nailed it. I gave an engaging talk on my methods and how they directly apply to the work that the PHRG is doing. Lots of robust discussion and excited chatter ensued.

That was last month. The director asked me a few weeks ago to meet with him today. So I showed up at his fancy new digs and sat down. He had read my intent perfectly. He commented that I wasn’t right for the tenure-attached professorship (they’re specifically looking for someone bringing a lot of money). I told him I knew that.

But then he said, “Look, I love your work, I love what you do. I think there’s a natural marriage between your methods and the PHRG’s interests. I want you to work with me. Let’s figure out how to make it happen and get you a faculty title.” Which is, basically, the answer to all of my dreams. He then took me around and introduced me to people, telling them that he wants to make me a part time research scientists and put me on the website and give me an office as soon as July.

I’m thrilled. Because PHRG is part of MECMC, my current charter should allow me to “support” them. Now I just need to convince my current boss to let me sit elsewhere 1-2 days a week. We’ll see what happens. I’m optimistic. I was able to work my long-term plan, which is now in about phase three, toward the outcome I want: a hard money position that allows me to do research and comes with a faculty title. Eventually a position directing advanced engineering methods at the whole of MECMC across all demesnes.

Currently, in the academic world, nothing like what I’m trying to create exists that I’m aware of. I’m building something from scratch and convincing people to support it based on my ability to deliver cool results. I’m not going to set myself on a path that relies on the vagaries of the grant market. I will build slowly and surely by making myself valuable and then asking for what I want, and not taking it with any attached strings I don’t want.

I’ve been building this since basically 20 days of sobriety. That’s when I was offered my first job in a hard-money engineer-to-the-Chief-of-Staff position that included research and grant writing. Thereafter promoted to a staff researcher position. I won a few grants, wrote a few papers. Became adjunct faculty at ILU. From there I moved to be an advisor at MECMC. Then a program manager.

And now I will hopefully be able to become a program manager and research scientist with my own office and website. Participation on grants and writing blog posts and policy briefs. I would have the apparatus of the PHRG at MECMC behind me, which is pretty significant. I’m excited and hopeful.

It’s been 9 years. In nine years of sobriety and just less than that of work, I’ve gone from a low-level flunky to someone running an engineering program and on the line for a joint appointment with a prestigious policy organization. Today I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. And proud that I never let people who told me that my way can’t work dissuade me from finding a way to build my dream career.

Fighting All the Battles at Once.

20 April 2017

You can skip this post. Really. It’s a white man’s writing about social justice movements. I’m going to get shit wrong and probably piss people off. So, if you ignore the warning and proceed and you start to get mad? Well, me too. I’m mad. That’s why I’m writing this. We need to do better. We need to do better sooner. And I don’t know the best way to do that. So I’m not going to be prescriptive here. I am not trying to tell people what to do. If I knew what to do, I’d be doing it instead of moaning here.

Specifically, the thing I’m thinking about today is the Science March. But the issues of the Science March bleed into all the issues of all the movements. The entire resistance to the Trump administration. And generally into society itself. Basically, we need to advance specific causes in order to create a better society, and while doing that we need to specifically spend attention, effort, and money on correcting disparities between citizens in how those causes’ benefits and participation are distributed.

This means that every progressive movement has a cause, and a meta-cause. We need to increase science in the domains of funding, education, public literacy, and influence on policy. And while doing that we must also improve disparities in the participation in the production of science, and in the benefits of scientific advances. Too much science is conducted by and for white men with little regard for other sorts of people. To all of our detriment.

These efforts are inextricably linked. But they are not identical. Among social conservatives (among whom I group the libertarian-type scientists who place “reason and evidence” above all other things) there is the misperception that these goals can be decoupled. And among social progressives, there often seems to be little acknowledgement that these goals are in any way addressable through divided efforts.

I land firmly on the side of the progressives in these argument, generally speaking. The issues of disparity and participation are intrinsically associated with funding, education, and policy, because we do those things worse (we fund lower quality proposals and make poorer policy decisions) when the lion’s share of science production and benefit are conducted and consumed by a strict subset of the population. One often heavily selected for lower-quality scientists due to systemic biases.

However, the issue of science funding advocacy – for example – can plainly be advanced without rhetoric that invokes disparity and participation. And there are cases where that may be the more pragmatic approach to take. There are members of the GOP, for example, like Newt Gingrich, who are champions of the NIH. The GOP is, as a rule, opposed to things that they can cast as affirmative action or civil rights “overreaches”. Therefore, when advocating for NIH funding to Republican senators, it is probably worthwhile to pretend social justice issues aren’t relevant.

This is where the side of the progressives struggles at times, I think. Yes, it would be better if the battle over disparities and participation were won at the same time as the battle for elevated significance of science in the national discourse and budgets. And yes, those two battles are connected skirmishes of a larger campaign. But if every discussion of science with every audience must focus on disparity, we are going to lose the ability to convene with people who might be allies on one front while foes on another.

Without science funding and without evidence-informed policy, we cannot address the issues of disparity and participation at all; too little science will be done whatsoever. But it is unconscionable to tell groups suffering from those disparities not to advocate for themselves, or that their needs should not hold positions of prominence in an agenda. They should. It is unconscionable not to support those issues whomever you are.

But I fear that always leading with disparity and participation leaves us all flailing to do science with fewer resources than we might have. I suspect there is room for a phalanx of influential policy lobbyists for science for whom their sole advocacy is funding and policy, leaving social issues of race, gender, and other identities entirely to others. But the rest of us, and the masses of us, need to stand for the eradication of disparities.

And I think there is good reason for us, when we see influential policy lobbyists who leave disparities off of their list of advocacy priorities, to pause and refrain from vilification. We should not assume hostility to a social agenda simply because a person is tactically silent about it. Additionally, if advocacy for increased funding is successful – for example – there is still the second-wave opportunity to advocate for reductions in disparity and improved participation at the later stages of review and dispersal of those funds.

Progressives lose, often, because we fall upon each other for perceived insufficiencies of commitment to the cause. We berate and denigrate one another whenever one of us prefers a different issue or approach from another. We are easily dividable, and the regressive right laughs at how easily they can disrupt our agendas by sending us spinning into rabbit holes of investigations for the least-privileged constituency. Never has a global movement, in my awareness, been so susceptible to being derailed by minutiae.

This is especially true of scientists: reductionists by nature, we obsess over details and are steamrolled by big-picture oppressors who are willing to accept a flawed victory rather than demand their battle plan be perfect – and unwinnable.

This weekend, the Science March goes off. Many of us are entirely jaded about it because it fails this constituency or that one. And it should have done better, absolutely. It should have done much better. But can we not breathe and be grateful that millions of Americans are going to march in the streets to protest a regressive and oppressive administration’s abandonment of basic human inquiry?

No millions of us will all agree on a social agenda. We have to fight those battles as brigades, not divisions. At least for now. And we do have to fight them. Because the rights and benefits of our nation’s wealth and freedom belong to every one of us, and should be spread widely, not retracted into a fearful bristle – our hedgehog right wing must not be allowed to squash the progress of liberty and justice.

But on April 22nd, some millions of us at least will all be agreeing that science matters, and should be a priority for our government in funding and policy. Can we celebrate that?

Publishing as a Nobody.

18 April 2017

This week I published the 12th peer-reviewed article of my 4 years at MECMC. Three papers a year feels like reasonable productivity for someone who is not required to publish at all and has little to no incentive to do so other than vanity. It is arguably a little bit harder for me to get papers into high profile journals because I don’t have an academic title. On the other hand, my discipline is esoteric enough in the medical field as to warrant little attention from such periodicals anyway.

And so I’ve done what I’ve always done in my career. Aim low. Of the 12 papers I’ve published (counting a book chapter), zero are in top tier journals. Three are in highly-regarded specialty journals, and the rest are in workhorse journals – they get read and cited, but you can’t make a storied academic career by publishing in those. They don’t get your name remembered.

My name will not be remembered. But I may have, quietly, helped improve hospital care at institutions that have never employed me, and that’s good. And I may have created jobs for practitioners of the kind of engineering I do, and that’s good. And I may have created a CV that will be well-received when I want to move on from where I am now. Papers can, at least, serve as tangible evidence that the projects I did worked. It makes me less reliant on recommendations.

But what’s satisfying about it for me is that I’m able to do things I think are important, and disseminate the lessons from them, without having had to compete constantly in the world of titled academics. I was able to create a space for myself that relieves me of the constant pressure of grant-writing while still being able to make a contribution. In the past 4 years, I’ve written about 70 pages of academic prose, and they’ve all been published (except for four grant applications totaling 9 pages – two funded for a gobsmacking total of $15,000). The average professor has written hundreds, and most in rejected grant applications.

While doing all that, I’ve succeeded in arranging for several student and first-time authors (including three of my bosses) to become authors. I’ve helped place one undergraduate mentee in medical school and another in a biomed PhD program. I’m very proud of all the academic work I’ve managed to do while it’s entirely outside of my job description.

And I’m also incredibly vain. And I feel the need to keep up with all my academic friends who are out there actually discovering things and making real scientific improvements. My field is using computer simulation to understand how hospitals (and some other systems) work, and how to improve them. How to design them better in the first place. It’s a useful field, but it’s by no means glamorous. I lunge at productivity so that I have a sense of belonging with people I mostly don’t really know, and who wouldn’t care if I didn’t. People who are better academics, smarter, and more diligent than I am.

I’ve always been a climber.


14 April 2017

Hopefully the disruption is over for now. I haven’t actually changed hosting sites yet, I just ended up screwing things up. But luckily I was able to get it all back. I think. For now. I’ll try again when I can muster more mental energy.

I’m tired and sore and exhausted. I am not performing particularly well at work, and I am not interested in fixing it. I’m becoming a bit slogged by my boss. She’s not very good at clarity. She knows it and works on it, but it still leaves me not knowing what she wants from me. I fall on the other side: without an extremely clear picture of what’s expected, I can feel adrift.

Training is going reasonably well. I was very pleased to run 4 miles at a 9 minute pace after a nearly 16 mile ride at 15 mph. I’m hoping to get my bike speed to 16 mph for the race, but that’s a tall order for a 56 mile ride. I’ll just have to see what I can do when the time comes.

Mostly I’m looking forward to a break. I want to take a lot of time off and rest. I really want to take a sabbatical of three months or something. Write a book or take on a different problem. Train harder and get some rest.

Migrating Away from WordPress.

13 April 2017

WordPress has changed their website management in a way that does not allow me to turn off auto-renew, or cancel my domain, without contacting support and waiting two full days for a reply.

I will be leaving wordpress which means you will have a disruption in the blog. When I settle on a new place, I’ll let people know.


6 April 2017

Work is a dull slog right now and has been for a while. I’m not feeling inspired. Not that I think inspiration is required, but boy is it nice. I’m feeling sludgy and unmotivated. I’d like to make some kind of a change, but I don’t know what. As much as I’d love to get back more into a research world, the funding situation in academia right now is such that only a madman would willingly trade a hard-money position like mine for a grant-funded position like those in the academic world.

Nevertheless, I am interviewing with academic employers. Occasionally. There is one here locally at VFU that may have promise for creating some kind of hybrid position where I can keep my hard money funding but also contribute to public health research in more concrete ways. I’d very much like that. I would have to, as I always have, convince people to make special exceptions for me. To create a new position that never existed before.

I’ve done that before. I’m currently in a job like that. My last job was like that. I got into grad school that way. I’ve never taken the traditional path from a starting point to an ending point. I’ve wandered my own way and found myself in the company of people inexplicably willing to bend the rules for me. A function of my privileges and talents, I suppose. And my ability to bullshit convincingly.

But I really do want a faculty title. I really want that. I had an Adjunct Professorship, once. It was basically fake. A title only. No teaching. No actual research. I was a consultant. The projects I consulted on have never been published comprehensively. But I’m proud to list that title on my CV. They don’t give those titles unless they are confident you won’t be a disgrace to the university. And so I can say I’ve been faculty at an Ivy League university. I’m proud of that.

My life has been characterized by doing small, fake version of things. I have a doctorate, but my dissertation was terrible and should have been rejected. I’ve been a PI, but I’ve never held an actual faculty position. I am a manager; I don’t have a real lab or an independent budget. My publication is for vanity. I am not actually advancing much human knowledge. I like to pretend I’m important and useful, but the truth is I’m a small, counterfeit version of a researcher.

My work is rarely read and more rarely cited. But this is how I’ve chosen to howl into the darkness. I fling these little missives into the sea of health care research and hope that through some complex, indirect action, it helps people. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. I’ll never know.

No giants will ever stand on my shoulders.