Thursday, October 09, 2008

Compresed Timeline

The Max Planck Society is a network of research institutes, mostly but not entirely in Germany. Many people consider it, to be the world's leading non-university research organization. The member institutes are more or less autonomous in terms of planning and executing research, as far as I understand, but all of them have the reputation for world-leading excellence.

A couple of years ago, at a conference on aging I had the pleasure of meeting the Executive Director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Jim Vaupel. At the time, he and my professors, Ron Lee, discussed the possibility of me coming to MPIDR at some point. I was excited by the prospect. Here at Berkeley there is effectively no one outside of Ron's lab group who thinks much about the kinds of questions I do, while MPIDR has a whole Evolutionary Biodemography Lab, at which they think about and work on pretty much everything I do, plus a lot more.
But then I went off to PNG, and then I was injured, and pretty soon I figured the opportunity had passed. But then I got an email announcing that there was a fellowship available through the German Academic Exchange Service (better known by its German acronym, DAAD, for North American researchers to come work in Germany if they had the invitation of a German institution. The email conversation that followed was suprisingly short, spanning little more than 24 hours, and completely reorganized my timeline for finishing grad school. If I may paraphrase, it went something like this:

Me to Ron: Should I apply for a DAAD fellowship to work at MPIDR.
Ron to me: Do you want me to ask them?
Me: Yes, thank you.
Ron to Jim Vaupel: Dan is an excellent young biologist, should he apply for a DAAD fellowship to come work there?
Jim to Ron (to me): Yes, he should apply, but even if he doesn't get the fellowship he should come here as soon as is convenient, and we can support him.

Just like that, no application, no interview, I had a desirable post-doctoral position lined up at a time when the economy is tanking and most of my peers are wondering if there will be any positions for them at all. My deliberations consisted of describing the situation to my wife to make sure she didn't mind spending some time on the Baltic, and emailing Dr. Vaupel to make sure I understood him properly.

What this means for my grad-school timeline is that instead of 16 to 21 months, I have eight to ten months to finish. I was thinking I would finish December of 2009 or May of 2010. After the offer from MPIDR, I thought I would have to finish by August of 2009. Afer talking to my major proffessor today, it is clear I need to be pretty much done by May of 2009.

My department's commencment is May 23rd 2009, and I plan to walk then, if at all possible. I won't actually be finished at that point, but I will be finished enough to convince my faculty persons that I can file my disertation before the end of summer. My wife's graduation from UC Davis is mid-June 2009. That summer I will finish my dissertation, then we will pack up our lives, take the cat's to my sister's house, and fly to Germany.

That seems like a lot to accomplish in one year.


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