Last stops to Buffalo

Tomorrow morning (at 4, because I am too damn cheap thrifty to spend $50 to take a cab to JFK), I am making my second to last trip out to Buffalo. I’ll be home for the weekend, and then I’m headed out next Tuesday for my last, UB-related, Buffalo trip. OK, I will probably be making at least another couple trips to defend two graduate students who still need to finish, but as a regular employee, these are the last two planned visits.

This last year of commuting has been terrible, I will readily admit. I had stars in my eyes for a while. I would get everyone to use the telephone and email, and for some, IM and video Skype. It would be like I was completely there. After all, we’re academics–telecommuting is nothing new. Sure, I’d need to show up now and then for some things, but most of the heavy lifting could be done through the wire. And when I needed to go, the flight on Jet Blue is only 50 minutes.

I was so wrong. The decision to commute was a poor one. The commute runs to several hours and brain-death and physical exhaustion for several more. Logistics and expense far outstripped my expectations, and my work suffered. This has largely been a lost year for me.

I wanted to give the university enough time to make a leadership transition for the Masters in Informatics program, and to replace me on the faculty. I also wanted to give myself time to do a more complete job search. Had I left last summer rather than this one, I would have left academia for a stint in the “real world” of consulting before coming back. In the end, though, I think that choosing to live in Manhattan and work in Buffalo was a bad decision.

Part of that, of course, is that I have been a “short timer” for way, way too long. Only in the academic world would someone give notice nearly sixteen months before actually separating from the organization. I was already in a marginal position on the faculty, split between two departments with duties that took away from both my teaching and my research. Some of the changes and politics of the School have been particularly wearing for someone who was heavily invested and now quickly divesting in its future. I’m certain this strife is not nearly as grinding as it is in many, many departments, but a lot of the collegiality and excitement that was part of the department when I joined it seems to be sapped away toward the end. To be fair, that may simply be because I was not as much a part of what was happening in terms of research within the department. Part is that I allowed my future to get too quickly entangled in the nuts and bolts of the programs. I should have defended my own time and objectives better.

Two of the faculty who most influenced my decision to come to Buffalo left a couple years ago, and some of the remaining faculty think of my work as not worthwhile, and been openly or quietly dismissive of it. I’m a pretty independent sort of person, but it’s hard to be a part of a community when you are considered to be a kind of adjunct in all but title–a position that has no doubt been especially encouraged by my relative absence over the last year. The direction of the department has changed, and become more focused in an area that is not my interest. In many ways, I applaud that change. I had always argued that a department as small as Buffalo’s (with only a dozen or so tenure-track faculty) had to focus to be able to move toward excellence. It has, and I expect its reputation will grow, thanks to the work of some very talented faculty. What I didn’t expect, but perhaps should have, is that such a focus would leave my interests so far out of frame.

On Friday, there will be a group going away party for the four of us who are leaving. (And those of you who know me in person know how much I love parties!) I can say unequivocally that I am eager to move on. I am ready for new challenges and a chance to work in a program where my efforts can gain a bit more traction; where my work can really be the work of the department. I’m looking forward to leaving aside some of the administrative issues, and focusing more on my teaching (in my own area!) and my research. Perhaps most of all, I’m looking forward to a fresh start.

Perhaps it is merely cognitive dissonance doing its required work, but I now wish I had made this move years earlier. I will always have fond memories of Buffalo, particularly of some of the extraordinarily talented graduate students I have had the pleasure to know, and I am sure that the less fond memories will fade more quickly, as is always the case.

I’ve intentionally left mention of my future plans a bit vague on the blog. I will rectify that in the coming months. I wanted to avoid the temptation of leaving Buffalo mentally before I left in fact. As we move into summer, I hope that I will be able to shake my old habits of thought and action as I move into a new position, and new ways of working.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 4/18/2006 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been in your unfortunate position to some degree. The same professors who encouraged me to go into graduate studies left early. This was followed by my newer faculty mentors who influenced me into the doctoral program also leaving (including you). Granted, one has to learn to be flexible, but it seems that people I deem interesting aren’t something our program knows how to appreciate. Pretty sad. In any case, I’m going in solo… slow but getting done someday I hope.

  2. diane
    Posted 4/19/2006 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Sad to see you go, I enjoyed taking your course last semester.
    –diane g

  3. Jennifer
    Posted 4/20/2006 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Hey Alex, it’s Jenn Kelly. Just wanted you to know that I’ll be at your goodbye ceremony. See you then

  4. Posted 4/21/2006 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    great good things are a foot for Dr. A. Can’t wait to hear about them.

  5. Posted 4/21/2006 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    So much shows up in your words. On one side, sadness, regret, disappointment. On the other, important learning, respect, and an opening to possibility and the excitement of what’s ahead. Your ability to reflect on your experience is a gift, and I am touched by the sensitivity with which you hold it out so clearly for us to see. May your life be full and may you fluorish wherever you choose.

    Warmest regards.

  6. Posted 4/21/2006 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Dear Dean of ‘Buffalo’s Blogosphere’,

    You’ll be missed. Buffalo’s loss. Blog on!

    Best,

    David

  7. John
    Posted 4/27/2006 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Alex, you’ll be missed tremendously by UB’s News office. Thank you for being a top-notch source for reporters worldwide who write about your areas of research & expertise.

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