With a flourish and frenzy of activity, the cycle has completed itself and begun once more. This week, of course, was particularly hectic. On Tuesday, we in GROUPER were pleased to celebrate Liang’s successful defense of her dissertation (now to finish the writing!), and after a 2-hour lab meeting, I went home and got some pleasure reading in. Wednesday was a travel day, with challenges of unstable weather leading to one canceled flight, and ground stops due to ramp closures at both the start and finish of the second leg of the trip. Hours late, but with the air cooled from the rain, I finally finished the trip and got home for a good night’s sleep.
“Hold it. You were at home, then you got stuck during thunderstorms, and finished the trip, and went home? Did you not get to your destination? Was your trip canceled?”
Even as I write this entry, there is a type of surrealism about this week. I’m sitting in one of the chairs I have had for over five years, with Amber on my lap, looking at her cat tree and food and a bunch of other items I clearly recognize. The window still faces east, but the image is different: instead of an empty parking lot across the street, I see a tall tree and an office building. In other words, the shift has now occurred. Amber and I have moved to Washington, DC to start my position as a Jefferson Science Fellow. My first day is next Monday, and I have begun enjoying the exploration of the neighborhoods of McPherson Square and Thomas Circle, and picking up coffee and pastry and fruit at the White House Street Market.
My world is changing significantly, and yet some things remain consistent. I am still an engineering faculty member, but I am thinking about a completely different set of issues this August compared to last August. Our lab meeting addressed a very interesting topic based on students’ recent experiences, and one that I will be considering very hard in the coming months. Academia, government, and industry are considered vastly different places, and representing wildly divergent career paths for those with PhDs. And yet, we’re taught (and have first hand experience) that a variety of people all craft their actions, decisions, and processing of information based on perceived risks, costs, and outcome benefits. There’s only one challenge. The benefits that drive most industry teams (profit—hey, I hear the new Aston Martins are really nice) don’t come into play at all for most academic or government folks, and the primary risk keeping academic folks up at night (someone already published my idea in that journal I love!) don’t seem to bother industry or government people much. A government employee may complain bitterly about the costs of having to work 5-10 hours of overtime one week; many academics and industry research folks take a 60-70 hour average work week as pretty much standard.
You may notice that the website (http://www.grouperlab.org) looks very different than a few months ago; that took us a while to work through. Elliott, our wonder-undergrad, did a pretty thorough redesign and architecture job, but what was more important was not just the scripting language or tab sequences. We went back to a very basic question: who comes to our lab’s website? Three different types of groups (yes, it’s that “use case” thing) want distinct types of information, at varying grain sizes. Even our own GROUPER alums represent different types of interaction profiles. We’ve got government employees seeing how our work can inform improvements for federal agencies. GROUPERs are also rising up the ranks in industry, and may be in a position to hire a new or recent grad (in this sense, GROUPER is definitely a distinct and valued brand). With the lab’s traditional gender mix (somewhere approaching 2/3 female), it’s not surprising that a number of alumnae list their primary function right now as “Mom”. I see no reason to hide that, or feel guilty or ashamed to highlight such life pathways. If everything is a system, and GROUPERs look at information everywhere, can’t those skills be applied to everything from medical information use for family members, to understanding the daily experiences of neurodiversity, to getting a front-row seat to the miracles of how humans develop broad processes of learning and skill development sets in ways that still challenge our most sophisticated machine learning algorithms.
Over the next few months, the GROUPER blog will be more active again, but it won’t be focusing as much just on our current lab research. We’re still researching, of course, but we have other stories to tell, and other forms of impact and effect to consider for how we get, share, and use the information we’ve been gathering and lessons we’ve been learning. Thanks for visiting us again after our quiet period. Hey, it gets busy learning how to be in multiple places at once.