Sunday, April 16, 2006

Complicated

You have a problem, I bet you do. Be grateful for it. Humans are funny, when they don't have problems, they make some.

On Friday, I declined the offer from the German Science Foundation for the Emmy-Noether-Fellowship. Something I have been delaying for some while. After all, didn't I want to go back ever since I came to the US? I got up in the middle of the night to make the phone call. Just to realize that it's a holiday in Germany. So, I sent them a lengthy email, which essentially tells them that I am sorry and they are stupid. Hope they get the message.

I miss my mum esp. on weekends, she always did my laundry. The apartment complex where I live has in toto 3 mashines for ~ 100 apartments (one of which currently is blue and green cause some kiddo apparently forget wax colors in a pocket). In addition, everybody does their laundry on Saturdays. So, I am out of sensible choices and down to the stuff I never wear. I ended up wearing all white, and since I was already at it, I finished the outfit with white shoes.

I made some attempts to go to the beach, but each time I left the apartment it started raining. Then I thought, I could as well go to work and get some stuff done. Apparently, I missed the exit on the highway and when the 'check engine' light turned on, I found myself halfways between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. I ended up sitting in a Cafe on the highway, vaguely pushing some details on the Higgs-mechanism around in my head. Took about 2 minutes until some old men sat at my table, stating

"You look like a deep thinker."

I tried unsuccessfully to stop frowning my forhead and said

"Maybe botox would help."

I only write this here, so the joke is not completely wasted. Without any further introduction, the old guy said his name was Pete, and then he told me almost every detail about his life I never wanted to hear. Joerg calls that agressive friendliness.

Turned out, Pete lived in New Orleans with his wife for 20 years. Then she got cancer. She always wanted to see San Francisco, but never had, so they moved to SF. She died 3 months later. He stayed. That was 30 years ago. I estimated him to be 80 or so.

Now he is about to move to LA because he has meet a women (very hairy eyebrow wiggeling). She is married, but apparently her husband is not doing too well. So, Pete is waiting for him to die any time soon. I wonder where 80 year old people meet. At the cemetary? No, they met in the bus, standing next to each other. "Standig is much better for the back than crouching - like you do!" and I got a lecture about sitting upright.

Then another old guy with a dog appeared. He was a friend of Pete and completely bald. The dog did not hesitate to immediately push his head between my legs and I spilled cold coffee on my white shirt. After five minutes or so, I yelled at the guys to stop excusing, and found it a good time to leave. The bald guy remarked "You are not a dog person". I said "Very observant" which he found very flattering and I got to see a lot of brilliant white fake teeth.

I mumbled some nice-to-meet-yous and Pete asked:

"Why are you wearing white?"

"Cause it's complicated.", I said.

Back on the highway, I remembered that the reason why I studied physics was that I did not understand it. I always thought it must be possible to make all that confusing stuff less complicated. I am still working on it.

Life's like this you
You fall and you crawl
And you break
And you take
What you get [...]

Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?
~ AVRIL LAVIGNE

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"
On Friday, I declined the offer from the German Science Foundation for the Emmy-Noether-Fellowship. Something I have been delaying for some while. After all, didn't I want to go back ever since I came to the US? I got up in the middle of the night to make the phone call. Just to realize that it's a holiday in Germany. So, I sent them a lengthy email, which essentially tells them that I am sorry and they are stupid?"
"

This is great to hear! I get all the time requests to judge about applications for Emmy-Noether and other well-intentioned DFG stipends. Usually it takes a whole evening or a good half weekend-afternoon of my free time to do my best and give a fair judgement. This goes all back the the DFG, and I guess there may be half a dozen people involved writing letters, hold meetings and so on, for each applicant. It is so reassuring to hear "they are stupid" and am pondering: why do people apply in the first place if they are not seriously interested ??

Bee said...

Hi anonymous,

thanks for the comment. I am sorry for the offense, please don't take it personal. I was not refering to the refereeing process, but to the lack of flexibility of German buerocracy - say, as compared to the US.

Here is the story: I applied for the fellowship in summer 2004. I got it in February 2006. By this time, I had already accepted another position.

I asked them to postpone the start date for a year. This would have been a great opportunity, not only for me, and the institution in Germany, but mostly the group I was supposed to build up.

They said they wouldn't do it. That was what I meant: it's stupid to talk about improving the international cooperation, and competitiveness, when they are unwilling to give the reseachers space to actually do it.

I asked them whether it is possible to detach the Fellowship from my person and to officially post the position they have granted. I dont yet have an answer.

I am really, really hoping it is possible! Even without my person, the project is very promising.

I understand it takes quite some effort to referee the applications, and I appreciate your work very much. Also the writing of the application took quite some while, believe me! I certainly did not make this decision light heartedly, after all that time of hoping and waiting. Had I received their decision one month earlier, there would have been no complication about it. And I certainly would not have made all the effort, had I not been seriously interested.

Best,

B.

Chris said...

you declined the emmy noether!?
stupid!

Who said...

hi Bee, I have been worrying about you for a couple of days

and last night early Monday morning woke up in the middle of the night thinking about something you said in PF forum about a continuum of observers.

I have nothing useful to say. I want you to be well and calm and happy----and after that I want you to do great research.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,


well, I know that it was not an easy decision for you at all to decline the Emmy Noether fellowship - so, first of all, all the very best wishes to this decision, and let's hope that it will turn out to be just the right one!

I mean, I have seen first-hand that you have pondered very very much about this issue, especially after all the efforts, time, and labor you have put into your Emmy Noether proposal: thinking about ideas and concepts for possible and sensible research projects, the detailed project descriptions, the questionnaires, the organization of letters of recommendation, the reprints of your publications, everything in twofold, the presentation of your concepts here in Germany. All this, you have organized from the US, where communication with the DFG was not as easy as one would expect, considering that probably a large share of the candidates have positions in the states. So, obviously, you have been, and probably you are, really very interested in the projects of your proposal, and also in the general idea of the Emmy Noether program to bring people like you back to Germany.

Considering all this, it really misses the point to say that it was stupid for you to decline Emmy Noether. At least, it was not obviously stupid ;-). I mean, from what I have witnessed from all the procedure, DFG was - at least until last December - quite slow, not very communicative or transparent about the whole process, and not really adopted to the time frame within which candidates have to look for the next job. And in the mean time, some of them may end up with really great offers from other attractive places ;-).

I have no idea about the flexibility of other funding agencies in cases like yours. I mean, is it possible in principle to somehow share the time between two positions? Does something like that work with other fellowships, at least for periods of single years? Anyway, taken as it is, Hamburg's physics students miss an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand some up-to-date phenomenological quantum gravity ;-).

Somebody said...

Hi Sabine et al.,

well done! In my opinion, a fellowship application system that takes >1 year to come to a decision and is completely out of sync with the world's academic cycle does not deserve any further attention. No matter what the alleged reputation in Germany is.

It's confusing and somewhat disturbing to read from 'anonymous' who claims that it takes him/her an evening to review one application (I consider this a self-esteem statement). Perhaps the entire process of '[The referee report] goes all back the the DFG, and I guess there may be half a dozen people involved writing letters, hold meetings and so on, for each applicant' needs to be radically recalibrated in favor of a much faster and more flexible accommodation of the requirements of today's most brilliant post-docs, assuming of course that the Germany is still interested in them.

I sincerely hope that you (Sabine) will find better treatment in your future scientific endeavors and applications (and recognition of the energy invested in writing a 25-page application - ridiculous!), no matter where you'll interview for positions. Considering your current plans, I think that the Perimeter Institute will provide you a much more liberal and more flexible environment to pursue your research than any German institution today.

Best wishes