Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Physicist brain, Dean brain

Posted by Arjendu on January 15, 2011

I left last Sunday for the Oregon Center for Optics, where I was being hosted by Dan Steck.  Dan and I both did graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, though we didn’t actually overlap there. Still, I know his adviser Mark Raizen, and his post-doc adviser Salman Habib, and plenty of common acquaintances, so he’s part of what I consider my ‘Research College’. Last year at DAMOP, we had one of our longer conversations, and it struck us that there might be a possibility for the two of us to collaborate — that was the primary motivation for this visit. I’m always looking for conversations, either with experimentalists interested in exploring the connection between their work and some of my ideas on the signatures of the quantum-classical transition in nonlinear systems, or with theorists whose strengths I might complement. Dan happens to be both, remarkably enough.

My visit included brief discussions with Steven Van Enck on entanglement verification, with Mike Raymer on his quantum optics experiments, Mike Kellman on the foundations of quantum mechanics, several excellent meals, and some extended conversations with Dan and his student Jonathan Macrory. The latter were promising, and we shall see how far we can continue discussions, both on the theory side and the experimental side.

I also gave a talk on signatures of the quantum-classical transition: It’s always a great experience to give a talk on your research to a new audience. The feedback is invaluable in so many ways, and for someone as starved of physics as I am right now, it was a superb time to review the matter, summarize whatever recent progress had happened on my long-standing projects, and in short, to be a physicist again.

While my days were full of physics, the Deanly email flood hadn’t been turned off, of course, and that’s what some of the evenings were about. Though honestly, not cooking, cleaning or parenting opens up enough time during traveling that I tend to do ok with working late. The true damage came when my flight back on Tuesday got canceled, so I lost the next day (scheduled for multiple important meetings, of course) to travel, and arrived back in Northfield to back-to-back-to-back meetings over the next two days. And the email flood wasn’t turning off any during this time, either.

The hardest part of the week was not the intensity of the physics, nor the intensity of the deaning. The hardest part was straddling those two worlds. I inhabit the world differently in either role (starting with the dress code) and operate from a different part of my brain. It’s not quite left brain-right brain, but there is a similar sort of divide between the technical, mathematical, absolute world of my arguments and models as a physicist, and the human, anecdotal, rapid-fire-striving-for-sensible-principles-decision-making world I inhabit as a Dean. I’m still growing the neuronal whatevers for the latter, and this week again confirmed how much I enjoy and miss being a physicist. It seems like I don’t have a choice but to continue trying to inhabit both identities.

Except on the weekend, when it’s about domesticity and parenting and … ‘life’. Most of the time.

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