Day: November 22, 2016

A Strange Birthday

It was DH’s birthday today (happy birthday, DH!), so we took off work early, had a late lunch together at a nice restaurant, and went to see Dr. Strange. I admire the Cumberbatch cheekbones as much as any straight woman, but the movie itself was not much more than cute and entertaining, which is a shame — they had a kick-ass cast that could have pulled off a much more complex story, but I don’t think complex stories get filmed with budgets that can afford the kick-ass cast…

Strange cheekbones

So we got to behold a bald Tilda Swinton looking wise and eternal, finally delivering a 2-minute soliloquy where she got to show off her acting chops. Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange basically played House, MD who acquired a goatee, a cape (an excellent comedic actor in its own right, similar to the flying carpet from Aladdin), and some serious spell-weaving and time-bending skills. The space-distortion effects were cool, but we’d seen them already in Inception.


DH and I had some time to talk (uninterrupted! for more than 5 min! while we were both reasonably awake!) and he seemed a bit bummed out about getting older, along the lines of “there’s more behind than ahead.”

I don’t mind getting older per se. I’ve done the big things (the career I wanted, great kids), so I am actually quite looking forward to the years with less childcare and more time to enjoy the world and to learn for pleasure (arts, music, languages); my concern is staying healthy enough not to drop dead prematurely. And, while I don’t mind getting older, I often think about what lies ahead, professionally and personally, beyond kids.

A colleague my age and with the exact same Google Scholar h-index just got elevated to fellow status in a professional society. This colleague is an all-around great guy: a great researcher, mentor, and teacher, as well as a department citizen who pulls his weight in service duties, so I do not begrudge him even in the slightest and am 100% happy that he received this honor (of course, I congratulated him). What’s interesting to me here is that I was thinking about becoming a fellow of the same society earlier this year; I sent around a few inquiries about what’s needed and expected, and then I concluded that I was still too green for this honor, and that I wouldn’t even consider myself worthy until my h-index hit a certain higher value. This colleague also has a number of heavy-hitters in his corner, while I am always too embarrassed to ask people to do these things for me. Mostly I find it distasteful to bug people to write letters and nominations for me. I don’t mind owing things to people who might need something from me, too, but with these senior folks I feel like every time I ask for their time and effort I get deeper “in the red.” I wish not all recognition hinged on the endorsement from Esteemed Greybeards from Prestigious Unis.

A colleague with whom I talked about the fellowship a few months ago said that her experience was that her community was really supportive and nurturing, and propelled their members towards recognition. However, I believe her vantage point is that of a Golden Child. I don’t think my community is nearly as tight-knit and definitely nowhere nearly as supportive. People get accolades late in their careers. It’s exhausting always being the only woman or a rare token woman, and thus thrown into varied professional service (but not necessarily into accolades) at an earlier career stage. (Why am I in this professional community, again?)

To wrap up this meandering midlife-crisis outpour, I am over a decade into a faculty career and I don’t have it all figured out. I am a good teacher and scientist, and I believe I am a good and effective mentor. But that’s not enough for sustained success, as sustained success requires moving up and up, which requires a network of prominent supportive elders. A junior colleague mentioned how I was now one of the elders, and I do try my best to be supportive of junior colleagues. But there is only so much I can do by writing kickass letters alone (and I do write very good ones); I could be more helpful if I were more famous and decorated myself, which surely requires good technical work, but also the support that I don’t really have… The chicken and the egg.

Which is why one needs to escape into the movies with all the cheekbones.