Saturday, November 29, 2014

7 Years Ago Today from Ralph from Rutabaga Ranch.

We had a lovely relationship with Ralph. 7 years ago he sent us a post that resonated a lot with younger faculty - and angered some. Among other things, Ralph said, "When I look back on the charging I did all those years, I just chuckle now. There's nothing up there, darlings, at the top of the ladder. Not if you're looking for acclaim or respect from without. It's true, what I did rewarded me personally, but that was not something I realized until I was nearly gone from the academy." The rest of that article can be read here.

And then a couple of years ago after he passed, his wife wrote to us. She said this: "You were so kind to publish an essay of his in 2007, and he never stopped talking about the things he learned, the things that he was worried about that appeared first on your weblog." The rest of her touching letter can be found here.


  1. Sorry, the "found here" link isn't working.

  2. I apologize. Cal put some Thanksgiving posts off and has disappeared off the face of the earth apparently. I've corrected the error. Sorry for any inconvenience.

  3. Lovely, indeed. I'd rank Ralph up there with Yaro as one of the RYS/CM heroes/role models. The kind of prioritization he urges may be becoming harder and harder given the decrease in tenure-track jobs (and the concomitant loss of power for those still in such jobs), or maybe it was always hard, though perhaps for different reasons, but it's still worth striving for. In any case, it's definitely a nice post to re-read at Thanksgiving (and, for those for whom it's relevant, at the kickoff of the most intense part of the job-hunting season).

  4. The world has changed since Ralph, truly, but his sentiment is still valid. The jobs are different. The path is different. But he's right on about our own work. Do it if you love it only.

  5. I was quite disillusioned about the whole process while I was a grad student. I was led to believe, when I started back in the Cretaceous Era of the late 1970s, that I could pursue *original* research. In other words, I could choose my own topic, if I wanted to.

    Instead, I found myself being railroaded into investigating a subject that I neither liked nor was convinced of its validity. (As it turned out, my suspicions were proven correct as each attempt to get the concept to work as physical hardware failed to meet most, if not all, of the objectives.) And it wasn't for my benefit, either. It was for the glorification of my supervisor at the time and he only saw me as cheap hired help.

    I felt similar pressure during my last 2 graduate degrees, even though I not only chose my own projects, I paid most of the expenses out of my own pocket. I suspect the reason behind that was the same as before.

    But I also didn't like the rat-race aspect of it. There was constant competition to see who was the first one to make the next finding and rush it into print. There was squabbling about money, where to get it, and what topic paid the most. There was the matter of how much one acquired, though I think that was largely for the purposes of oneupmanship.

    I guess I turned out to be a bad boy as I chose to investigate what *I* was interested in and, since I was signing most of the cheques, I figured I could dictate the terms. I selected an obscure area which wasn't popular, and there was little funding for it as it wasn't in vogue. However, it was something that I wanted to work on.

    There were other benefits. By going in that direction, there was hardly any competition from other researchers as there weren't very many. Anything I did or found would be new, so, to a certain extent, I was master of that field.

    Now that I'm semi-retired, I work on it whenever I want to for as long as it suits me. If I publish something, it's my choice and I don't have to produce publications simply to impress a funding agency--I not only don't need much money (my apparatus consists of a computer and lots of scrap paper), I'm paying the bills myself.

    It's hard to top that.