When I was a first-year graduate student, I did not realize that the first-year winter break was the last time off that I would have until I walked out the door of the lab for the last time–several years later. Consequently, I spent it reading a book about linguistics–that is to say, I spent my last vacation for several years reading a book about the subject that I was studying during all of my work hours. On the plus side, it was a great book, and I was thrilled to find a copy in the original French in the basement of one of the Giberts in the Quartier latin last year. But, had I known that I would be spending the next several years in a basement watching jaws go up and down (literally), I think I might’ve taken a walk instead, or something.
The thing that makes academics howl the most is people saying it must be so nice to have summers off! In reality, the summertime is when you work frantically on your research. Research is, in theory, what you’re in academia to do. In practice, events usually conspire to keep you doing everything but your research. What kind of events? Read on. The following is a recent Facebook post from Karin Verspoor, a colleague upon whom I rely to kick my ass, teach me things, and basically be a bossy but much-adored big sister (despite the fact that she’s a lot younger than I am). One of the many reasons that Karin is my hero is that she does smokin’ research in computer science (smokin’ explained in the English notes below) while raising three damn fine kids, which means that her research work typically starts around 10 PM. Along the way, she got a doctorate at the best computational linguistics program in the world, ran labs at various and sundry research facilities in the US and Australia (hence the weird spelling in what follows), became a full professor at the University of Melbourne, and taught me a bit about statistical distributions of language (probably the most difficult of all of the things that she’s done–and, of course, the topic of this blog). Karin’s Facebook post is about as accurate of a portrait of what the daily life of an academic looks like as one could hope for. As Karin puts it: it’s not a whine–it’s just an attempt to answer the question Where does the time go?
This is not a whine, simply an exploration of the question “Where does the time go?”
Today I had no meetings (a rare occurrence indeed) so I decided to stay home to catch up on some work. I started the day with ~150 unread messages in my inbox. During the day I received another 111, most of which I processed but not all, and ended up sending 125 messages. I am now near the end of the day with 61 messages still marked unread (I have read nearly all of them, but these are ones that I want to follow up on one way or another at some future time; yes there is probably a better approach).
I finalised a paper due today and a presentation that someone is presenting on my behalf at 6am tomorrow Melbourne time in Bethesda MD (I will join by teleconf for Q&A), with a lot of back-and-forth with the students involved. I processed paperwork for a visitor and a new post-doc including checking references, tweaked [“tweak” explained in the English notes below –Zipf] position descriptions for positions we are getting ready to advertise (come work with us!), checked up on my seats and meals for my Friday flight, confirmed next week’s meetings, looked at flight options for my next-next trip, dealt with editorial work for 3 papers in 2 journals, contributed to the agenda for a meeting next week which I will miss anyway, inventoried and downloaded all the papers I need to review in the next couple of weeks (a lot), reviewed and gave feedback on several pieces of student work, made plans for some research assistant work while I’m out of town, made progress on a promotion assessment I’m working on, followed up on inquiries from prospective students.
I didn’t get to start packing for my trip, which I wanted to do, and didn’t quite manage to finish our Australian taxes which are due *very soon now*. I didn’t change out of my pyjamas until 3:30pm when it was time to meet Consuela after school (I obviously didn’t walk her there). I didn’t shower.
Of note: I had no time to work on any research today, as is the case most days. Research, in theory, is my job. I’m not even teaching this semester.
The glamorous life of an academic.
to tweak: This delightful monosyllable has a number of meanings in English. I’ll give you the sense with which Karin used it, and then my favorite.
Karin’s: to make usually small adjustments in or to; to fine-tune (Merriam-Webster). I think it’s somewhere between peaufiner and fignoler, perhaps. Some examples:
Mixing is such a ridiculous undertaking. Sometimes I’ll be tweaking a mix for 6-8 hours, racking my brain, only to revert to an older mix, make one EQ change and everything magically falls into place.
— alex tumay (@alextumay) November 16, 2017
I’m sure a bit of tweaking with the cars’ accuracy levels would ensure they wouldn’t miss again.
— Grab68 (@Grab68) November 19, 2017
I almost think tweaking the numbers shortly after launch is almost worse. Really milk those early adopters and then give things away (sort of).
— UnderscorefunkDesign (@underscorefunk) November 13, 2017
A patient model and soft light – what else could I wish for…
Natural light and a bit of curves tweaking in photoshop, nothing else goo.gl… pic.twitter.com/WnkluXoXeE
— Penny’s photo (@Penny0828) November 13, 2017
How Karin used it: I tweaked some position descriptions for positions we are getting ready to advertise (come work with us!).
My favorite: to be high on, or doing, meth. It can also be a noun, with a closely related sense. Some examples:
LA caller needs to lay off the meth….tweak much dude? @cspanwj
— LLPrater (@3StepsBack) November 11, 2017
So cus I said tweak they thinkin I’m on meth
— __ (@__Pj27) November 2, 2017
And Tosh looks like he’s on the business end of a 3 week meth tweak
— Paul Swinebaum (@AugustusThe3rd) November 2, 2017
Tweak Zone: Meth user claimed deputies have implant in his brain, officers say … https://t.co/YErYYsyrXI
— Barbara Hijek (@FloriDUHgal) October 20, 2017
#livepd she’s not going inside and stayin she’s gonna do her Meth and tweak and act stupid all nite y’all will see her again
— Melissa Richard (@lissarichard49) October 15, 2017
smokin’: This is an adjective, and it’s quite positive. I don’t have a specific translation for it—it’s just really good.
This acoustic version is smokin’ !! https://t.co/9x9qnO7bo2
— JGY 😘🍸 (@joie_yu) November 20, 2017
#LucreziaBorgia on @BBCRadio3 from @SbgFestival is smokin’! The perfect accompaniment as I pack for 6 weeks away: Prague, @ROH_Muscat, Tampa, Ft Lauderdale, @AtlantaSymphony, Ptown, NYC, Orchestre national de Lyon.
— David Charles Abell (@DCA_Conductor) November 23, 2017
@JoeBiden you were smokin hot in your younger years..dayum.
— Dulcie Merz (@dulcie_merz) November 17, 2017
If poodles were smokin hot unicorns
— hi (@BillAlexan) November 10, 2017
How I used it in the post: One of the many reasons that Karin is my hero is that she does smokin’ research in computer science while raising three damn fine kids, which means that her research work typically starts around 10 PM.