Just finished reading about what they don't teach in graduate school, and wanted to note the bits that stood out to me.

Understand that most academic fields are dominated by fewer than 100 powerful people. Early in your career, you should get to know as many of them as possible — but not until you've mastered the literature (particularly the papers they wrote!) and developed some ideas of your own. If they get to know you and conclude you have no ideas, you're finished.

Oh, okay. So it is like open source in that you're working through the same process of becoming part of a community of practice. I can do that. It just takes longer, and... so maybe I'll need to do it less accidentally. I feel like I did this all accidentally in the open source world.

Specialize. Get known for something. It helps visibility. Brilliant, restless people who work on several topics simultaneously usually do not achieve as much visibility as those who plod along in the same area for many years.


Finish your Ph.D. as quickly as possible. Don't feel that you need to create the greatest work that Western civilization ever saw. Five years from now the only thing that will matter is whether you finished.


Change your career or move every seven years.

That's not really something I expected to hear, but when you read the part of the article that follows, it makes sense -- career moves do the same thing for you in academia that they do outside of it. They benchmark your value, they surround you with new ideas and colleagues and make you the new, vibrant, life-bringing person; I'm not sure how I feel about a 7-year cycle, but we'll see. My own rhythm seems to go in 2-year rounds, but maybe that's a function of where I've been so far.

Learn grantsmanship. Educate yourself about who provides money for your type of research.

I... resist this quite a bit, but it's something I do pragmatically need to tackle. I am, however, determined to learn about business and other ways of funding work that don't rely on grants or other forms of begging; I want to create some body of work that generates revenue, stands financially on its own feet, is sustainable. Not everything I make will be this way, but I want to be able to know what it takes to do it and what the tradeoffs are so I don't go around with only the apply-for-a-grant hammer and only see the possibilities that can be nailed.

When you do something noteworthy, ask your college's PR department to publicize it.

Learned that lesson from Matt Jadud and Steve Jacobs, in particular -- I need to follow their example. Well, we'll see if anything this year gets to that point. Debbie Chachra's career plan is my desktop background now: DO COOL SHIT. DO IT WELL. WRITE IT DOWN.

Write most of your articles for refereed journals. Papers presented at meetings get you funds to be a world traveler. However, even if refereed, conference papers don't really count for tenure, promotion, or salary raises.

One of the things I'm thinking about aiming for this year is preparing my first journal publication. (The other alternative: book.) I think I'm okay on the conference circuit now, both FOSS and academic; I feel able to navigate those waters -- and now it's time for the bigger ones, the longer cycles, the far more polished work. But not because I want to be promoted or whatever. Because I want to be able to achieve that class and magnitude and quality of product, and because I know that current-Mel can't quite, but that I'm close enough that I can learn by trying. Upgrading self!

I need to think about grad school the way I thought about hiking when Sumana and I were in England; it's not a sprint, preparation is key, you need to wrap and wash and blister-proof your feet, maintain your gear, pack your food, make sure you regularly sip your water, munch your peanuts.

You can take short sprints when you see a joyful hill, or get caught in a storm; you can take short breathers, but by and large, you're pacing for walking hour after hour, day after day, through some of the most gorgeous territory (English or intellectual) any human being can experience as part of life. Balance the joys of sprinting with the knowledge that you will do more of this tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow -- and that gradually, mountains will give ways to farmland will transition gently into moors, the way classes roll into quals roll into dissertation research. And take care of yourself. And enjoy the evening pub chats with fellow travellers along the way as they come and go from your life. And sleep.

It's funny; yesterday in New York I kept telling Sebastian that I didn't want to come back here, to lonely, isolated, flattened-farmland Indiana... but today -- while I'm not overjoyed to be surrounded by the cornfields once again, today I walked in and I knew people and I knew where things were and I had my feet and I am keeping them. I'm much more sure-footed, and I'm much more able to reach out and talk with people, make alliances, without demanding that they have the full-scale huge-project-with-people-you-live-next-door-to intimacy and intensity of my undergrad days, or the round-the-clock contact of my time in FOSS. I can talk with people for a moment, work with them a tiny while, and then let things go, knowing that they can come back.

Not sure what that means. Still looking forward to being in Ohio next semester. Completely cognizant that most of this post won't make sense to me a few months from now when I've forgotten much of the context surrounding it, because I haven't written for so long. But I can write whenever I like, and I know this is a thing that keeps me grounded, so I'll do it. This can be a place I come back to.

It's lunchtime.