Euphoria, delusion and sudden rushes of perspective.

Just a few days after "The Consecration of Spring" went online, I soloed to win the Cadolzburg "Frühjahrsstrassenpreis" classic, my third race of the season. Matched perhaps only to my prologue win in the 2008 500 Millas, my first 'real' victory in European soil was the first step in what I still hope to be a very successful campaign towards, well, higher sporting goals. It resulted in a healthy and most welcome dose of exhilaration and ecstasy, the result being celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic in the days afterwards...But aiming higher means facing higher challenges - and this couldn't have been better exemplified than my category upgrade following that victory. Racing as an Elite B rider, most of my races are now of the so-called KT/A/B form, which means not only the top Elite A riders (the top 200 amateurs in Germany), but also some professional teams (KT's). My first race in this new class proved to be a disaster: the fast pace was absolutely unforgiving of my absolute lack of handling skills, which, in the lower categories, could usually be compensated by sheer horsepower. Being shelled out after only a few laps was something I hadn't experienced since my first days racing as an amateur in Europe, and reminded me there's still a long way to go. A disappointing ride in the State Championships and a couple of interrupted training sessions, unable to meet the target power outputs, further kept my cycling bliss in check.

Still, a fortnight later, I've managed a top-20 placing in a B/C race, and even made my way into some prize money. And last weekend, my team-mate Ivo found his legs in the Passau circuit race, and netted a fine victory ahead of the charging pack, and now joins me in the B ranks. The entire team's performance over this early season has been commendable, and if such wave continues, I'm sure we'll soon have others making the upgrade - which should hopefully translate into loads of fun in the upcoming criterium season...
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I've been continuously battling oscillating feelings about my PhD and Academia in general - as already extensively discussed in previous posts. Following a scientific career is becoming less appealing with each passing day, and as such, it's been a struggle not to throw it all to the wind when, for instance, an email sent out to the students insists we follow a more regular schedule in the office. Yeah, right, just like the lemmings working for a pay check...

Interweaved with this dissatisfaction are a number of issues which may soon find their way into a second instalment of my critics of how mankind in general, or academia in particular, has been managing itself. From clearly less-than-optimally employing its resources, to using chauvinistic arguments in its selection processes, to steering otherwise fabulous minds into burnout, not to mention driving families apart - I'm sure we could have it so much better.

Nevertheless, and perhaps precisely for I'm currently facing issues of a more technical nature in my research, my stubbornness insists that I should soldier on, if only to ascertain the correct factors in this - eventually already made - decision. The first coffee in on the house.

(Yet, still in the PhD thread, I can add a small plug to a new paper with Dave and Xiongfeng, just posted on the arXiv (1105.2811). We take a previous proposal for implementing Device-Independent Quantum Key Distribution (DIQKD) with heralded photonic amplifiers, and find that a simple, experimentally-realisable modification of the optical circuit is capable of entirely eliminating the vacuum component on the conditional output state found after the amplification stage, thus enabling higher violations of the Bell inequality which lead, ultimately, to higher key rates. Now, I'm not particularly excited by QKD, and maybe my contribution was rather small, but I'm still happy to show some results. If only my main QEC theorem made it through the formal scrutinizing process... )
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I made it to 28 (and am now just one year behind my count of transatlantic crossings, but that doesn't matter here). While growing old is apparently unavoidable, how one deals with it makes all the difference. For, as Seneca puts it, “it’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it". Peter Pan-ish feelings...

Thoughts from the past keep coming back to me. Some dating back to the beginning of my PhD - in a déjà-vu of an earlier summer night daydream - or from even more distant years - my plans of youth, of triathlons and the Pacific Northwest - have come to meet the still fresh ideas I've been developing in the past few days and weeks. Keeping them all in due perspective has been pivotal in enjoying the ride, and assuring me to continue with that which has been my most constant status phrase of the last few months:
Always Yay!


Lesma said...

You seem to make it a habit to put up a post, and then go off the next day to win another race.

Congratulations, Whiskas!

\mp said...

As you well know, there is much more to life than what is found in "real academia" (vs it "romantic" version). Of course, there are many reason to continue along the academic path (and there are certainly people for whom this is an optimal choice, both in terms of what they can do as well as in terms of what they cannot do) but one can find many more reasons to go along a different one, with success and without regrets. I have only one suggestion. If I were you I woud conclude the PhD---unless there are very good reasons not to---and, having decided to leave academia---if this is the case---, lay down a plan for the future during the last period of the PhD, possibly trying to get qualified/skilled in things that could turn out to be useful (attending courses, programming, whatever).

Congrats on your victories, and even more for your "yay!" philosophy :)

In bocca al lupo!

Whiskas said...

Crepi il lupo!

Don't worry: I'm most likely concluding my PhD. Maybe the more relevant question to be posed right now is just how to make this last period still induce as many Yay!'s as possible, even if I am to follow a different path afterwards. What will then follow... you'll read about it here, if we don't get a cup of coffee somewhere before that :) .

I guess the idea of laying down a plan and acquiring qualifications/skills is useful for everyone, not just those deciding to leave academia. It's something I've been investigating already, but at any rate, thanks for the tip :) .

Arrivederci - e sempre Yay!