October Slips By

This month slipped by. Trick-or-Treaters are ringing my doorbell. I have a plastic pumpkin full of candy. It’s interesting. Some of the children are so polite and grateful that I let them pick their own candy. They carefully select a single choice piece of candy. Other kids jam their hands deep into the mass of candy and pull out as many pieces as their small hands can hold. Thick or thin, tall or short, there does not appear to be any correlation. Although it’s the boys that seem to take the biggest handfuls.

This has been a tumultuous month. October is the time of year that my employer conducts performance evaluations. As the acting head of my administrative unit, this means I have the pleasure of writing or at least reviewing many evaluations. In theory this process does not tie directly to merit raises (we don’t do cost of living increases) and yet merit occurs about 2 weeks after the review process. Hmm. I did this last year having been in the position about 2 weeks. This time I’ve had a full year. While I was more comfortable doing it this year, it was still not easy. One person I review wanted the position I obtained. This person does not speak to me except to remind me how sub-optimal they find me. One person held the position for 20+ years and was my direct supervisor for more than a decade.  Some people I enjoy working with tremendously and others are so unhappy I wish they would move on to someplace, anyplace, else. This process requires my best fledgling diplomacy skills. In many ways I try to treat the process as SWOT analysis: Where is the person strong? Where can they grow? What opportunities might they take in the future? What have they missed that jeopardizes their position? Most of all I try to be fair and remove my personal biases as much as possible. I’m not sure it is possible. For example, in my own lab, I like and respect my head technician both personally and professionally. She literally reads my mind on many work related issues. I trust her fully to ensure that she will keep the lab going strong, even if I am not giving her and the rest of the staff enough of my time. At the same time, I simply like her. I cannot separate these when it comes time to review her performance. I am not sure that I should. But is it unfair if I do not when I review someone I simply like less? The reviews are done but these things I ponder.

I spent a few days in DC reviewing scientific grants for the government. First of all, the Watergate hotel is lovely. At check-in, I was upgraded to a suite. Be sure to request a non-smoking room. All I can say is wow. My accommodations were incredible, not that I had much time in the room to enjoy them. I was able to see my brother and his family one evening. I generally get to see my brother every few trips but have not seen the rest for a few years. They say that you can’t pick your family but I am lucky to be related to my brother. He is a funny, smart and interesting person. I always enjoy seeing him. The grant review process was depressing. Given the current federal funding situation, most grants (likely more than 90%) will be denied. I reviewed 9 of the 109 in our group. Given the odds, it is unlikely that any of the grants I reviewed will be funded, even though some were quite interesting and certainly meritorious.

This was also a month of PhD defenses. I am on the thesis committee (these generally have 5 people) for two students. Both were given extensions beyond their normal 7 year deadline. Both defended this month. One was awarded the PhD yesterday.  The fate of the other remains uncertain. Today was the deadline. It was extended again for the thesis to be rewritten. The oral defense has been postponed. This is heart breaking. The overall body of work is solid. The writing was simply incomplete.  The student has two weeks to complete the thesis to the satisfaction of the committee to determine whether the oral defense will occur. I hope the student pulls through. There is no joy in crushing someone’s hopes and dreams, especially after 7 years of work.

On the fitness front, running at sea-level is a thing of joy. How swift I am where there is ample oxygen. I am running more than I am lifting. Most runs have been under 5 miles but they have been fun. Holding steady at about 131 lbs. I still need to add more weight lifting to my workout schedule, but for now I am focusing on finding the joy of it. The joy was lost during the marathon training schedule. I do better on a schedule and will be ready to lock into one soon, or at least after the holidays. For now, maintenance and fun are my primary goals. So much of my life is work or work-like, I need the joy of health and fitness more than goal oriented fat loss at the moment.

Beacon Biotechnology was formed last month. I am one of many co-founders. In the hours between those scheduled for my day job, I work on business plans and corporate strategy. There are so many opportunities to seize with deadlines always looming. While my efforts here are not likely to have any immediate personal financial impact, they do create so much hope in me. Our technology and our team has so much potential. There are so many ways for us to succeed. Yes, I know that most start-ups fail, and yet…there is so much potential here. It shines so brightly.

In my blog travels, I stumbled across a few interesting things. First, did you know that angry/negative people were bad for your brain? This post is simply fascinating. I have noticed that while I used to be a fairly pessimistic person, I have been drawn lately to those people who are full of joy and hope. I find that I am so very tired when surrounded by the pessimistic and angry. Uncomfortable. Yes, I am a realist and yet I would rather surround myself with those that share my joy and hope for the future. Apparently there is a scientific basis for this. Who knew?

In my international entrepreneurship class, we talked extensively about micro-finance opportunities around the world. I stumbled across this new business, Kiva, which connects every day people (who would perhaps normally donate to non-profits) with global entrepreneurs in need of small loans to back their businesses. It’s the middle men making money, not the lenders of the money. The business model fascinates me. I liked the concept so much I emailed my professor from last year about it. The actual donors, in theory, break even or at least feel good about helping someone try to start or grow a business. This model is somewhat like Prosper except with prosper the donors can earn a profit. Anyone can be a bank. I realize that some of these ideas may be obvious to those of you reading this but it never occurred to me that I could be a “bank.” Sure, I support the non-profits I believe in as I can, but what Kiva and Prosper are doing would never have occurred to me.

One comment on “October Slips By
  1. Soem dood says:

    RE: Casey Serin:
    Some similarly business-minded folks from the old country also run into tough times, due to their own innovative ideas for creating wealth, just like Casey:
    (Uzbekistani immigrants await discussion of entrepreneurial methods)