Across the World and Back

It feels like both no time and forever. I’ve been traveling almost nonstop for four months, and now I’m finally home. It was amazing, exciting, fun, sometimes uncomfortable, endlessly fascinating, useful, productive and indulgent. I don’t want to go anywhere for a long time and yet I would go again in a heartbeat.

Most of it was cities. Not my first choice for travel destinations; I’d prefer villages and mountains, but this was mostly a work trip, so cities it was.

Short trips to Chicago, Berkeley, then overseas to Athens, Volos, Thessaloniki, Plovdiv, Varna, Bucharest, Stockholm, Skovde, Linkoping/Norkoping, Lund, Bremen, Leiden, Munster, Freiburg,  Milan, Moneglia, Florence, Prato, Heraklion, back Athens, then home briefly. Then Seattle, Berkeley, and a final leisurely drive to Mendocino and back for Balkan camp. I gave my cardiac seminar seven times formally, and three times informally. My ‘Aesthetics in Flow Vis’ I gave five times.

I am so grateful to all my hosts, most of whom I had never met in person before. I got such valuable feedback on our work. I was able to learn so much about the stellar work all these new colleagues are doing. I was able to visit their workspaces, meet all their students and postdocs, and see such a range of ways of approaching this research/teaching enterprise we are all engaged in. This kind of visit was so value-added compared to presenting at a conference that I plan many more in the future.

One of my preconceptions that was blown was the way that low university tuitions are managed in Europe. Each program has thousands of qualified students in the first year. They really do have ‘weed-out’ courses, and they accept the impact this has on their demographics (in terms underrepresented minorities) as a given. At the same time the faculty are just as committed (or not) to excellence in teaching as we are here at home.

I visited both thriving and struggling research groups. One common refrain was that there are very limited opportunities for mid-career researchers, so many of them seek (and find, oddly enough) opportunities abroad. This churn may provide good cross-fertilization of research, but it takes quite a toll on the families involved.

So now I’m home. My up-close view of the grass on the other side of the fence revealed that it is green, but no greener than here. My to-do list is even longer than when I started. It turned out that manipulating a cursor on a laptop screen is tough on any train. I still have a lot of processing to do on what I learned, as well as thank-yous to write and connections to follow up on. My students were all productive while I was gone, so I have a lot of their work to review. I’m not complaining! Onward!

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