Friday, 28 September 2007

What it's like to Write a Dissertation; or, Overtaken by Fear; or, Anxiety on Descent; or, Crush Me Now, already, Please? In "On Sad and Joyful Passions of Academia," Anthony writes: I get that people are unhappy with their advisors, with the lack of support from the university, and from the seeming glacial pace of publishing ... But the complaints, especially from those fully funded at institutions I would imagine are very exciting, foster a different sad passion within me. They even foster a kind of resentment that they have been given this opportunity while I have to scratch out a future ... yet they seem to enjoy nothing about academic work. The best way to talk about academic work is baseball. This goes without saying. I played third base and shortstop. I played them well. I had sure hands and quick feet. When the ball screamed off the bat, there was no time to think. There was only time to react. Move the quick feet. Catch with sure hands. Throw the ball. In between pitches, I would look to the man to my left to make sure we knew our assignments. Then the ball would leave the pitcher's hand. Then the batter would swing. Move the quick feet. Catch with sure hands. Throw the ball. In the infield I felt like part of a team. I could look to my left and catch the second baseman's eye. I could look across the diamond and catch the first baseman's eye. I was a player among players. We all knew how to react and how to react together. Then one year my coach wanted me to play center field. Being a team player, I consented. I'd shagged flies during practice, and was better than most at going back on a ball. So why not? I left the dugout and jogged past my teammates. Then I kept jogging until my teammates looked like toy soldiers. I stood there. I was still playing baseball. Only alone. Three hundred and ninety feet from home plate. Two hundred feet from anybody else. Short screaming or semaphore, I couldn't catch anyone's attention. I was alone. See home plate in the shot above? No? Click on the picture to enlarge it. See it now? Focus your attention on the tiny white dot near dead center. There's another to its right. Either will work. Zoom in on them. Those tiny dots are twice the size of a man's head. Now imagine something an eighth that size come shooting from the crowd. You track the ball. You run intuitive quadratic models. You run where you think it will land. You compensate for drag. The wind blows it to the left. You run intuitive quadratic models. You compensate for drag. Or the right. You run intuitive quadratic models. You compensate for drag. Or further behind you. You run intuitive quadratic models. You compensate for drag. You adjust course. You adjust speed. All the while you track the ball. All the while you calculate. The ball hangs in the air for seconds. You spend every last one of them calculating. This is...

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