Tell the Spartans...

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Windwalker
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Tell the Spartans...

Postby Windwalker » Fri Mar 09, 2007 3:15 pm

Many of you know that I have been fighting to keep my research going for the last two years. Federal funding of science has fallen to abysmal levels and, in my case, even my salary (let alone funds for the laboratory) comes entirely from NIH grants. To keep my people as long as possible, I halved my salary for a year and I may also have to weather a period of no salary.

Recently, I was offered a powerful administrative position at the NIH. I would be judging other people''s grants, deciding what to fund. To avoid conflicts of interest, NIH prohibits people in these positions from doing research and also imposes strong restrictions on outside activities, requiring lengthy pre-clearing for such things as writing and giving talks.

Perhaps as an omen, on the day that I went to DC to give my talk, a tiny grant I had sent almost as an afterthought unexpectedly got an outstanding score. To make a medium-length story short, I refused the position. The dream of doing research is what made me come to this country. Things are still chancy, but I have decided to make a stand.

Yesterday, one of my postdocs came to see me. He had decided not to seek a position until we knew the fate of our grants. The grant that got the good score will allow me to rehire him -- at half time, a full year after I had to let him go. He listened to my explanations, then grinned and said, "When you start the grant, I'll be in the lab."

I had to fight back tears... and I thought that this is true heroism, this broad Chinese man loving research as much as I do, and calmly deciding to take his chances with me.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby intrigued_scribe » Mon Mar 12, 2007 10:50 pm

Now, that's truly inspiring. :)

Heather

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Postby sanscardinality » Mon Mar 12, 2007 10:53 pm

Sounds like you are following Joseph Campbell's advice to "follow your bliss" through the part that's hard to do (when most give up or sell out.) Good for you!!!

- SC
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Oscar Wilde

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:02 pm

As that quintessence of Victorian romanticism said:

"...for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die."

Image
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Marie
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Tell The Spartans

Postby Marie » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:42 pm

Go tell the Spartans, Passerby,
That here, obedient to their laws, We lie…
–Simonidas, Epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae

You know that this is one of my favorite and inspiring quotes. It tells of determination, valor, insight and courage. You have all of those qualities and much much more, my dear friend.

As I had mentioned earlier in the blog after you made your career defining decision:

"I have often wondered how people try to mold themselves into something to which they cannot relate and wither in the attempt to conform. Wasting talent and drive in a lackluster position or one that stifles is definitely taking the simile of the penknife. Rusting in the sheath is a more satisfying proposition for the present because when the call echoes and the event arrives, the fire, anvil and whetstone are there to give sharpness, brightness and power back to the blade."

I hate to repeat me own words but they are surely appropriate in this instance.

Kudos, Athena! Bring on the Persians!

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:58 pm

Thank you, my friends, your comments warm my heart. My use of the epigram was to highlight the quiet heroism of my postdoc. No warrior bluster or luster, just an unfussy decision backed by a jaunty grin. He's the truly brave one, not I, because he has a family.

A parenthetical remark: the standard translation of Simonides' epigram is strangely convoluted in syntax. I know the original and here is a verbatim rendition:

Stranger, tell the Spartans that here we lie, obedient to their words.

Much more laconic, I think!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Translation of Simonides

Postby Marie » Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:24 am

Well, I never said I was a scholar of Greek translations only the one of which I am most familiar.

I knew you were highlighting the decision of your post-doc. However, you also made the sacrifice of a prominent position to continue your research and so too deserve the support.

There are not that many who will leave a comfortable situation to tackle an uncertain future. You, my dear have done both.

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Postby bretonlass » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:37 pm

Athena,

All my good wishes go to you in securing future grants. Being myself in the world of Academia, I know how tight the purse is, and how one has to fight for whatever pennies one can scratch. And I'm in Litterature, I don't have a lab to run!

As for the wee translation from Simonides, I went to check the original version on-line. Now, I don't know Greek except from a few key words, but it seems to me that a "poetic" translation would be this:

O Stanger, go tell those in Lacedemonia
That here we are lying, obedient to the law.


And to those trying to intimidate you, one Leonidas of Sparta could inspire your words... Directly form 300:

- Spartans! Lay down your weapons!
- Persians! Come and get them!


Cheers,

Eloise :)
"First, you see the world in black and white. After a while, you begin to see the shades of gray. And if you but have the courage to try, you then get to see all the colours of the rainbow." My philosophy of life

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Postby Windwalker » Wed Mar 14, 2007 12:06 am

bretonlass wrote:And to those trying to intimidate you, one Leonidas of Sparta could inspire your words... Directly form 300:

- Spartans! Lay down your weapons!
- Persians! Come and get them!


Thank you for the spirited words, Eloise!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Apr 30, 2007 12:03 pm

Things with my academic position will be touch and go, despite the new grant. Much may change in the next month... and I still must finish the grant I'm working on.

On a more positive note, I will soon start writing at a site that is the online presence of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. The institute focuses on the social implications of cutting-edge technologies (those impinging on biology in particular). They appointed me as a fellow and published an excerpt of Making Aliens. Among the other fellows is the Australian SF writer Russell Blackford, whom I met once in a conference. Here is the link, for anyone who is interested: http://ieet.org/
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies web fellow

Postby Marie » Wed May 02, 2007 12:22 am

Sincerest congratulations, Athena!

This is a fantastic venue to showcase your knowledge, experience and extraordinary writing techinques.
I followed the link and was amazed by the variety and interesting topics previewed on this site.

Thank you for the opportunity to branch out and gain additional information that relates to the ideas expressed on our forums.

Best of luck and I hope this exposure will advance your scientific as well as your literary career.

Marie

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Re: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies web fello

Postby Windwalker » Wed May 02, 2007 12:31 am

Thank you, Marie! Yes, they do touch on a lot of interesting topics. It's not a paid position -- most endeavors of this kind run largely on volunteer labor. Nevertheless, as you said, it gives exposure in an interesting venue.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby intrigued_scribe » Wed May 02, 2007 3:51 pm

Congatulations, Athena! :D
This is indeed a brilliant venue in which to shocse your work, and I also hope that this furthers the both of the foremost facets of your career. Best of luck!

Heather

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Postby intrigued_scribe » Wed May 02, 2007 3:53 pm

Minor postscript--I'd meant to say showcase in referring to your work; not sure how I managed to misspell that...

Heather

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Postby Windwalker » Wed May 02, 2007 4:09 pm

Thank you, Heather! It will certainly be interesting to see how this develops.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.


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