Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year in Review

Good afternoon, dear reader, and welcome to the end of 2012.  Unless, of course, you live somewhere quite a ways to my East, and you've already entered 2013.  And, of course, this will be up on the Internet for all eternity, so a priori any reader of this is unlikely to still be in 2012.  But brushing all that foolishness aside, I am certainly still in 2012 right now, and I think I'll take this opportunity to look back over the year from a scientific perspective.

Let's be organized about it, and look at things in terms of different aspects of life as a scientist:
  • Research Projects: the core of it all, carving truth from the substance of the world
  • Publications: the primary product of research, and place to draw research threads together
  • Funding: powerful amplifier of research, yet generally a trailing indicator of one's impact
  • Position: one's institution and position within that institution affect opportunity greatly
  • Impact: what difference one's research makes to others in the world
  • Professional Service: organizing, reviewing, supervising students, etc.
  • Work/Life Balance: that portion of life as a scientist which is not being a scientist
Not all of these need to advance every year, but in a healthy career, at least something significant should be happening in most categories.

Looking back over my own past year, the biggest change by far is in the area of work/life balance.  I've been running pretty hard for some years now, and since my wife is a scientist as well, "work/life balance" sometimes meant things like "let's sit all snuggled up on the couch while we work on our laptops."  In July, that changed irrevocably, with the birth of my daughter.  Now I live by an ironclad rule: from the time I get home to the time she goes to bed, I do not work, but spend time just being a parent to my child.  More than anything else, this means that I am having to give up perfectionism, and the notion that I can do it all and have it all.  My lack of effective triage has been slowly grinding me into dust, and with Harriet's arrival it has accelerated to the point where I can no longer pretend.  My goal now is to be only 80% of perfection.  This is extremely difficult, but feels doable---I suppose it is my New Year's Resolution.  Ask me at the end of 2013 how it has gone.

The other big news for me this year is in scientific publications, with four major journal articles and two book chapters, besides the usual collection of conference and workshop publications.  Those journal articles and book chapters loom larger than usual in my view, because of their contents: this is the year when we reported major results from my first funded project in synthetic biology, and in spatial computing we published two key formalizations of space/time computation (one for continuous space/time and the other for discrete), and a massive review of spatial computing programming languages.  Overall, it's been a very good year, and there's more in the pipeline from my ongoing research, so I feel very secure about my scientific base.

Funding's been much more of a mixed bag, but I'm still alive, and I'll just keep my fingers crossed on the proposals that are outstanding.  Position is a no-op (as one usually expects), and impact is hard to evaluate (Will my energy work escape the lab?  Only time will tell.), though Google Scholar indicates a significant uptick in my citations, which is always nice.

In the world of service, I am graduating a co-supervised PhD student, as I reported in this post.  The rest is pretty standard: we put out another special issue on spatial computing, and I'm continuing to act as an associate editor for ACM TAAS, plus running my seminar series at BBN and reviewing innumerable papers of highly variable quality.  I have also taken a big step by not being an organizer for the 2013 Spatial Computing Workshop (the sixth in the series, and I feel happy that we've been going long enough that I didn't know that number off the top of my head).  The 2012 edition was the best yet, and I have confidence that the others will do at least as well without me.

Putting it all together... I think I'm happy: strong on the scientific core and surviving OK everywhere else: not ideal, but a very good base to continue building on.  Next year will see big changes as well, both professionally and personally, and from where I sit right now, I think it will go OK.  And you can hear my perfectionism again, to not be all superlative, especially in a public forum like this.  Honestly, though, I think I prefer a quieter confidence that I can simply stand upon as a firm foundation for the year to come.
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