2000 May 3

Major update

Yeesh, so it's been a month and a half since I've updated my journal. No wonder my traffic is falling off. The basic reason is boring enough -- I've been spending a lot of time working. Maybe not as efficiently as I'd like, but it's been fun.

I guess the main news -- as far as my journal is concerned -- since my last entry is that I've postponed my intentions to move to Boston. I still expect to do it sooner or later, but it won't be this spring or summer. (I'm not planning my life much farther ahead than that.) Am still lonely out here, but, well, the reasons are complicated. So, I'm going to ramble here a bit.

My background has been pure academics -- I hadn't had a non-academic job since I was 18 -- which means it was in some obvious ways about as unlike as it's possible to be from the investment banking background Jim and Gautam and a few other Revboxians (Revboxites? Revboxers?) come from. There is one important way it's not, though: that people work really hard.

The way a PhD program works is you do some coursework for a year or two, and somewhere in there your advisor gets you started on a research project of some kind. If you've been unlucky in your choice of advisor, he or she may regard you a cheap labour to assist in his own project, but I think more often a grad student is given the freedom to coast along on his or her own devices for a while. That's how it was for me, anyway -- I had a weekly meeting with my advisor on Tuesdays, which led to frantic work on Monday amidst a vast sea of goofing off.

Depending on the policies of the university, this coasting can continue more or less indefinitely, but after a year or two, most students realize that they're wasting their time, and that it's impossible to complete a thesis in that frame of mind -- at which time they either buckle down, or abandon the program.

For me, I decided I didn't care that the job market for PhDs is appalling; that I wanted to finish anyway for the principle of the thing. So I set a deadline for myself and went back to working weekends at a sort of gradually increasing intensity. After a year and a half I reached a point where my advisor agreed I was ready to finish, at which time I stopped doing new research and wrote up what I had.

My thesis-writing took almost three months of seven-day-a-week work. Sometime in the middle, a friend had his 30th birthday party -- on a Saturday evening, I decided I could afford an hour away from work, which was long enough to turn up for cutting the cake. Then I went back to work. On the day I turned in my thesis (on time), I apparently looked so fried everyone I met that day asked me if I was ill.

This was two years ago. In the time since, I have come to the conclusion it was the most rewarding thing I've ever done. For one, I'm terribly proud of having made the deadline I set, though in many ways it was artificial -- if I'd missed it, the worst likely to happen was I've had to wait a couple months to submit in May instead of March. Or I could have chosen to wash out of the program and gone to work in industry for triple or quadruple my graduate student stipend. But I did my best to convince myself and everyone around me that the deadline was real, or I'd never have finished. Deadlines are good; they're the only way anything every really gets done.

The other part is that there's a wonderful purity that came with the intensity of finishing my thesis. I'm rather proud of the document and am glad I wrote it, even if there are to my knowledge only six people in the world who've ever read it, and four of them I'm not really sure about.

Which brings me back to why I'm at Revbox. I found that once I completed the thesis, I'd run out of drive to keep doing pure research, but I missed having a project to throw myself into. A startup is different, but not so different as all that.

So, I'm not doing it for the money. Not that it's not good to have, but I actually had all I needed as a postdoc making half what I'm getting now, and I got along fine as grad student on half of *that*. Revbox is another chance to put myself into something hard, less personal than a thesis, but this time maybe more than six people will read the result.

When I started talking about moving to Boston, I thought it didn't make any difference which office I was in. I have been persuaded that it does, at least for now. And I find it matters enough to me that the venture succeeds that I've decided to content myself with monthly visits for a while; I'll find some other way to fight off the loneliness of California.

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