Blog going on indefinite hiatus

Oct 16 2007 Published by under About the Blog

I am going to take a break from astronomy blogging for an indefinite period of time.

I'm finding that as I'm involved in my new job, while I still do get a charge out of posts like the Big Bang post I did the other day, my heart isn't 100% in this.

Also, after the deleted post yesterday, I'm just too digusted with the nature of academia at our forefront research institutions (and with Vanderbilt in particular-- as anybody who reads this knows, I already bore a fair amount of bitterness towards that institution, and now I have a huge amount of disgust with Vanderbilt's Physics department). Yes, in the past I got a lot of mileage out of echoing those complaints, and I know that I hit something of a chord because of the response I received. Heck, even to this day news stories get generated in part by my own meta-issues with academia. But the fact is that I'm out of it now, and I'm finding myself really wanting to move on and not remain so mired in the issues that drove me into clinical depression and eventually drove me out of the field. They are not my problem now, and I'm not enough of the crusader type to want to fix the world even though I've been booted from it.

I truly do regret having to give up teaching college. Ironically, yesterday when I visited Vanderbilt, I also dropped by the Society of Physics Students meeting, and really enjoyed meeting and saying "hello" to the students. I loved the science, I loved the teaching, and I loved interacting with the students... but the academic politics and the nutty standards of "rigor" that Universities think they are applying wrecked it all. And learning what I learned about the academic politics reminded me that, yes, however wistful I may have been in the interactions with students, I made the right decision by fleeing that environment.

The fact is that my heart just is not in this astronomy blogging gig right now. I have moved on, and I really want to move on. I will make myself unhappy if I continued to be mired in what I was mired in before. And, the fact is that I don't have enough left over cognitive energy to be making the kinds of astronomy breaking news and pedagogical posts that composed what I think were the best of Galactic Interactions. Astronomy and teaching remain two of my passions, and some day I may try to come back to it. In the the mean time, however, farewell.

It is possible at some point in the future I may change my mind, and want to start blogging again— about astronomy, or about something else. I can't predict if I'll ever be able to re-join the family, but in any event I'll link to it from my personal home page. If for whatever reason you may have some interest in that possibility, periodically check that page, as I'll assuredly drop a link there to any public blog that I'm doing.

23 responses so far

  • MartinM says:

    Well, fuck 🙁
    You will be missed, but if it's what you need to do, it's what you need to do.
    Good luck for the future.
    ...umm, your 'personal home page' link is wrong, BTW.

  • Chris' Wills says:

    Well I'll miss your blog.
    Good luck with your second life and have fun.

  • arby says:

    I'll third that, good luck, happy trails. rb

  • Jay Solis says:

    I'll forth that.
    That article was the reason I added you to my RSS feeds. It's a shame that's what made you stop.
    Good luck - keep on truckin'

  • C. Birkbeck says:

    That's too bad, but I understand. I hope your luck turns around.

  • KKairos says:

    You could always go to some college where your teaching ability matters--from the sound of your blog it doesn't matter too much at Vanderbilt, but I'm positive there are other universities where it matters a little bit less.

  • mollishka says:

    You should know better than thinking that Fox counts as "news" ...
    And, yes, the personal homepage link is broken.

  • huma says:

    too bad. i've enjoyed reading your blog. thank you for your time and passion.
    will you continue to give talks in sl though? and how about to keep the blog sl-related? i think many would like to read stories from the linden labs insider 🙂

  • JuliaL says:

    Thanks for all the interesting and informative posts. I'll miss them. Once you've backed away for long enough to heal from the world-of-academia damage, I hope you'll return to your interest in astronomy with new enthusiasm and joy.

  • 🙁 Sad, but understandable. I wish you all the best, Rob, and for my own selfish reasons as a reader hope you find your way back to blogging at some point.

  • Zuska says:

    Rob, I am really sorry, but I completely understand your decision. I once had to take a hiatus from something I was passionate about...not for exactly the same reasons as you, but burnout was involved...and eventually I found my way back to it, albeit in a different form. Something like that could happen to you. You know best what is right for you at this time, and you need to focus on what feeds happiness.
    Astronomy's loss...Second Life's gain...I just wish we Sciencebloggers didn't have to lose you too...but I wish you well.

  • Bill LaLonde says:

    It's probably starting to sound like an echo, but like the other commenters, I understand your decision and wish you the best but will miss your blogging. Wishing you much happiness in your endeavors, and hope to see you again someday.

  • David Harmon says:

    We'll miss you, but it's much better saying "bye" so you can go focus on your new, enganging, "real job", than for some tragedy or disaster.
    best of luck!

  • #include desire-for-some-other-outcome
    Bummer. Well, best of luck! I hope we have a chance to cross paths at some point again. It seems mildly more likely in your new profession, actually!
    (p.s. - posting announcements of SL astro events would be most welcome!)

  • chimpanzee/ says:

    When one door closes, another one opens

    -- Spanish proverb

    There are two great tragedies in life. One is to not get what you want; the other is to get what you want. And if I had gotten what I wanted, it would have been a greater tragedy than my not getting what I wanted, because it allowed me to get something else

    -- Jonas Salk
    [ good article here from ]
    You need to keep "scanning" for opportunities in Astronomy. A Caltech PhD like yourself ("superior being").. exiting research is too much of a waste. A tragedy.
    Here is a really good excerpt from the above article:
    Q: You had phenomenal success in your work, but I gather there were some setbacks along the way. It seems shocking today, but you were turned down by a couple of institutes that you applied to after medical school.
    A: In fact, my entering the field that led to work in vaccines came about as a result of my being denied an opportunity to work at another institution."
    Q: Tell us where you applied that you didn't get in.
    A: I applied to a laboratory at a medical school that was interested in pathological disorders, diseases involving the immune system. I had also applied to a laboratory at Columbia University. I know how disappointed we all are, not to get what we want. But the question is, should that discourage us? That was not my attitude. My attitude was always to keep open, to keep scanning. I think that's how things work in nature. Many people are close-minded, rigid, and that's not my inclination.
    You sound like "me" & many other degree'd people (high-end academics): we tend to live "out of a book" (everything is perfectly logical, & so is a career) & are RIGID ("idealistic" as opposed to "realistic"). Someone just made this observation about L. Motl (his blogs ability to "offend people"), which apparently led to his "scattering out of Academia" (LM used the phrase "fucked up job", which is eerily similar to your viewpoint & mine). A Caltech CS prof told me
    "Playing the Game" [ adapting to the imperfect Academic World ]
    "It's GOOD to be IDEALISTIC!" [ trying to change the world ]
    It's the driving force behind every great scientist (who are revolutionaries..discovery-makers). However, it needs to be tempered with some "realistic"..WE LIVE IN AN IMPERFECT WORLD (see J. Salk comments above).

    The reasonable man ADAPTS himself to the (imperfect) world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to ADAPT THE WORLD TO HIMSELF [ "CHANGE THE WORLD" ]. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    -- George Bernard Shaw
    It's no wonder you, me (& lot of my colleagues) have "scattered out of Academia". A friend told me "I couldn't take the BULLSHIT no more". The situation in Academia is SO BAD, that adaptation is no longer feasible. Hopeless.
    Somewhere out there, there is an opportunity for you/us.
    "You have to find someone [ or somewhere ] who UNDERSTANDS you & your abilities"
    -- XX
    [ A high-school classmate of mine (Stanford Geophysics PhD..a REALLY SMART guy, his dad was a physicist/particle-theory) had the SAME issue like you. He "scattered out of Academia" (U. of Minnesota) because of disillusionment w/politics. One of my (female) classmates..another REALLY SMART person (who argued & went 1-on-1 with the Stanford Univ president about "Stanford prefers projects which bring in the most $$, not the quality of research", she's an MIT & Tufts alumni..pre-med), told me "you should talk to XX..he's wandering around in a DAZE". We were discussing our similar circumstance. He ended up doing some great work in Industry (nuclear test-ban treaty verification), which earned him a Congressional Award.
    BTW, we all went to a famous high-school which was known for independent-thinking ("asking the right questions"): it "produced" 3 Nobel Laureates: Literature, Physics ('76), Economics ('82). John Bardeen, Jr (son of 2-time Nobelist J. Bardeen)/Fermilab, Theodore Gray (1 of the founders of Wolfram Research), et al are also alumni. Your alumnus Caltech has this reputation as well (as per R. Feynman), so it's not surprising we are all "in the same boat" & sharing experiences. I.e., "You mean "Pigs [ Academia ] can Fly..WTF"? ]
    You need to keep trying, there are many "alternative" places for research. Santa Fe Institute (M. Gell-Mann's attempt to break out of the Academia "mold"), Perimeter Inst, Microsoft Research Labs, Fraunhofer Inst, Salk Institute, et al.
    "Forget it."
    -- Bertram Herzog (head of Fraunhofer Inst), personal communication
    [ I asked him about the chance of Academia making adjustments for Interdisciplinary Science, my project way back in '01. His approach is like J. Salk..form your own Institute. ]
    Keep up the fight. That Gruber Prize in Cosmology means that you are on the "right track" & you have the "right stuff".
    "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."
    - Jim Valvano, NCSU basketball coach

  • Patness says:

    Good luck, Rob. Maybe I'll happen across you again sometime.

  • Noooo! 🙁 🙁 🙁
    I missed all the drama when I was in Europe, I come back and you are gone! Well, I wish you the very best of luck and hope you find happiness at your new job! You will be missed.

  • bill gates says:

    Well, you sucked as a researcher, choosing to rest on the laurels of your one paper. And spending 30 minutes (if that much) right before lecture on making your notes does not make you the fabulous teacher you think you are. Sorry, but stop bitching and go your own way

  • Rob Knop says:

    Yay! I got a troll. Probably some student from a class who was pissed off that I tried to make students think in my classes.
    In any event, whoever this person is has no clue what I was doing while I was there.

  • Rob Knop says:

    ...and while one shouldn't feed the troll, there is a thing or two I want to add. First, the lecture comment makes it pretty clear to me that this was probably an undergraduate student, and a shallow one at that. Reading one's student evaluations, you always find students who think that your teaching is awful, that you don't care, that you don't pay any attention. It always hurts to read that, especially if you put an awful lot of time, effort, and self into your teaching. Fortunately, I also received enough positive comments to realize that it wasn't completely and totally lost on everybody. Indeed, the vast majority of the comments I got in smaller classes were very positive, and a the majority of the comments I got in larger classes at least recognized my enthusiasm. But there were always some dismissive know-it-alls like this trolls in the comments from the larger classes.
    Re: papers, it is true that I only had one first-author paper while at Vanderbilt, and that's not a good thing. There are numerous reasons for that. My primary output was repeated proposals that kept not getting funding.... It was bad that those took so much time. There's also the fact that after the paper that took my first 2-3 years at Vanderbilt to write, I switched research fields, and thus you'd expect a gap due to getting started. There were two or three papers that should have gotten finished in 2006 that didn't. There is one more that probably still will get finished-- a Chynoweth et al. paper, and while I won't be first author, it is a paper I'm actively working on with one of my grad students. But beyond that, yeah, on paper the publication record after 2003 isn't great. On other hand, had I stayed in, it would have been fine following the gap... and it's a vast mischaracterization to say that I rested on the laurels of the one paper! If that were true, I would hardly have been bitching and thrown into a deep clinical depression by repeated NFS proposals after that paper!
    This comment does nicely point out, however, that being a professor means facing attacks not only from academic politics within your department and indirectly from the administration, but also from the occasional asshat student with a huge sense of entitlement who has no clue what professors really do and also seems not to recognize that professors are human.

  • mollishka says:

    Don't sweat it, Rob. You're out now, and (hopefully?) enjoying your new job. Just think, the only time from here on out that you might have to deal with asshat students is in the world of the virtual.

  • bill gates says:

    No, I am neither a troll nor an undergraduate - just somebody who got tired of your mud-slinging to make up for your own lackings. By the way, I hear that the students you teach in your graduate class thought you suck as a teacher. I wonder where you get your idea of being a grand teacher. Because you can write a blog?

  • Rob Knop says:

    Folks, I'm closing off this thread. It's kind of sad that I have to receive anonymous abuse from a second-year astro graduate student at Vanderbilt who never had a class with me. Especially since I always thought I got along well with that graduate student while I was at Vanderbilt.
    This kind of pathetic behavior is one of the things I won't miss about blogging.