Back when I was in grad school, I used to refer to describe the appearance of the undergrads with the phrase “every year, I stay the same and they get a year younger.” I got to spend the last two days at my old graduate school at a symposium given by the research group I used to belong to there. In between presentations given by professors and students in the group to their corporate sponsors, I got an eyeful of the undergrads moving between classes. Was I ever really that young? Did I ever dress that badly? Grad school used to be very immediate thing in my life… now it is clearly in the past. That is probably good thing.
One the things that made me choose against going into academia as a career was that I was burnt out on the research process. After nine years of largely banging my head against a wall, I felt like I had no ideas left. I had zero patience for what I essentially felt was a mind numbing process of debugging a white board. (A roomate once told me that mathematics research was the art debugging a blank sheet of paper — we computer scientists use white boards instead.) I wasn’t sure that I would ever have the research itch ever again.
After the last two days, I’m not sure. I find myself less enchanted with the business driven needs of corporate culture. Yes, there are no shortage of problems to solve, but many of them are dumb problems that have more to do with with how the business is run, or worse, how a customer’s business is run. Academic research looked appealing once again and was interested in a few of the presentations I saw. One was an interesting spin on the general area I listed in my statement of research when I was applying for a professorship. Another was an idea I could have easily explored in my Ph.D. dissertation if I had another six months to work on it. A third was an idea by a colleague of mine that could tie in with some long abandoned research of mine that were supposed to be part of my original Ph.D. dissertation (the one that was scooped by about a year by some folks at Itty Bitty Machines.) I felt the research itch for the first time in about five years.
Perhaps there is a way to scratch it. There may be a paper or two to write about the results of meshing my colleague’s new work and my old work. This could be good — a new publication for my vita. That’s always a help.