Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Other Side

Well. Here I am - officially no longer a researcher, but a full-time instructor.


First, the Good: I love it. I really, really, REALLY love teaching. I love writing lectures, planning what I'll say in class, thinking of examples / anecdotes / analogies to make the material more palatable. I love my students and the courses I'm teaching. I love that students come up after class and say how the material relates to their own life. I love how two students approached me after class yesterday, giggling and shy, to tell me how they had re-enacted the "Elevator Experiment" (I teach Intro Psych).

I love having my own office, a place of solitude. I love being surrounded (finally!) by all my textbooks and pop psychology texts that I can reference or lend to students. The light filtering in through my windows and the view of the river. That I already have friends on campus: my brother-in-law (BIL); an exboyfriend of my best friend; a neighbour; the handful of departmental faculty that have taken me out for drinks or lunch, or invited me for beer.

I love no longer having to have someone to report to, who might monitor when I'm at work and how productive I'm being. Being able to walk to work (I commuted on the bus 1h each way back in Vancouver) - a half hour stroll through a beautiful neighborhood and park. Time to think about my day and reflect on the tasks I need to get done. Making my own hours.

The Bad: I don't know if I miss doing research, per se, although it is early days. I'm still writing up manuscripts (one paper just got accepted, another rejected - the Yin and the Yang of research) and having some discourse with colleagues back at UBC. But what I do miss is being someone who is respected for their knowledge on a particular subject. As a PhD and academic researcher, you are the 'go-to' person for any questions related to your field. "Oh, Dr H? Yeah, go see her if you want to know more about X". Here, I slip through the cracks. My colleagues don't know anything about my research past, my expertise in a specific subject area, that I've won awards and published in good journals, been a respected and valued member of a research team. I'm just the one who teaches Intro Psych and Addictions. Is it ego? Sure. Will I eventually get used to my identity not being tied to my expertise as a researcher? Perhaps.

The Ugly: I met with a colleague for lunch yesterday, and, after I proclaimed enthusiastically, "I'm so happy here!", he replied, with a shake of his head and a downcast turn to his voice, "this worries me." He reminded me that my position here is temporary. It's a year-long contract that may not be renewed. By the end of our conversation, completely dispirited and disheartened, I remembered that teaching faculty are few and far between, they are generally not respected or valued, and I am an expensive hire (b/c I have a PhD). I am no doubt regarded as dispensible, particularly if there is someone else (e.g., tenured faculty) qualified enough to teach my course-load. I remembered why I agonized over the decision to pursue a teaching career in lieu other options - because University teaching is all about tenured faculty, and it's very rare to make a career out of it without doing "at least a little bit" of research on the side.
I find myself constantly defending why I left research; having to make explanations for why I abandoned a thriving research career to pursue a temporary and unstable position for which I know not what lies beyond it.
Next post: Why I left research. Because, if anything, right now I need to remind myself of those reasons.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Today is our last day in Vancouver. We started the day by having brunch at Havana's on the Drive with some good friends. I had a beet salad (which is, oddly, becoming my 'go-to' order). The conversation didn't focus too much on the move, for which I was grateful; I'm tired of talking about it. After brunch the eternal boyfriend (EB) and I ambled down the Drive, stopping in at the occasional favourite store 'one last time'. I bought some zucchini chocolate muffins from Sweet Cherubim's.

Afterwards, EB dropped me off at Granville Island - one of my favourite places in Vancouver. Yes, it's filled with tourists, but I still love browsing the local artists galleries, ogling the stacks of ripe raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries at the fresh food market, and imagining my home filled with the buckets of flowers at the stalls. I bought: a numbered Hillary Morris print, "A Fall Day over False Creek"; two bottles of sake from Osake, the artisan sake maker; and a crazy Japanese file folder with a cartoon picture of a man with curly hair and a sheep on his head with the caption "today I went to the hairdresser and I got my hair cut like a MOUTON" (mouton is 'sheep' in French). I was going to give it to my brother-in-law, but it's maybe just too cool to give away (sorry, Andrew).

I decided to walk home, probably not the wisest idea on one of the hottest days this summer, but I wanted to savour my last travel along the sea wall on foot. Halfway home, aching shoulders and bags cutting into my hands, I stopped on a bench to rest. A harbour seal bobbed his head out of the water. Staring out at False creek, the yachts and sailboats moored along the docks, the marshmallow puff of BC Place, and Science World in the distance, I wondered will I remember this moment? This day? So many places I've left before; will this one be different?

The thing is, leaving Vancouver is more than departing a geographical 'home'. For reasons upon which I'll expand in another post, my leaving Vancouver also marks the end of my career as a researcher. When we finally arrive in Ottawa (sometime around the 25th of the month; we are driving across), I'll start my new job as an Assistant Professor - however, I'll be doing strictly teaching and no reasearch. I'm a bit scared, a lot excited, and overall nervous at the prospect of having a job that no longer centers around a lab. I've been in this for 15 years - my entire identity is wrapped around me being a scientist. How will I cope?

But no matter, today is for savouring the moment, and savour it I will. EB and I just returned from a tasty dinner at Phenom Penh, a Cambodian/Thai place around the corner from us in Chinatown. I had possibly the best fried chicken wings I've ever tasted. Deee-licious! A saunter through the Chinatown night market and a spectacular sunset capped off the evening. Now, home, exhausted and sweaty after a long day, we are ready to say 'goodnight, and good luck' to Vancouver.

I'll see you on the other side.