May 10, 2006

The proliferation of place

Category: Travel — Biella @ 4:12 am

SO it looks like I know where I will be next year, the Great North, the land of the Polar Beaver, National Health Care and hockey, as I have accepted a two year Killiam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta in their Program of Science, Technology, and Society.

By most any standard, the terms of the postdoc are pretty sweet. Not only do I get 2 years with no teaching or administrative obligations, they have added an additional year of teaching, and even better there are a great number of folks there who also on the types of projects (both the hacker and pyschiatry ones) I am engaged in.

I have to admit though, once I located Edmonton on the
map, my eyes almost fell out of my sockets. As most may easily infer from my reaction, Edmonton IS far, by most any standard of the word. Ok, it is not as if I am going to Easter Island or Alaska, or some tiny town with one street, but it is not like one of those Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver that closely hug the American border. It is north of the northwestern city of Calgary. So even though I have had a secret desire to relocate to Canada and pledge my allegiance to the Red Maple Leaf ever since I first visited in 1997 (and found out that they *really* do lead a more sane life than we do here), this seemed a little too cold and north for my tropical comfort zone.

Knowing that I may have reservations about a University and city I knew very little about, the folks at University of Alberta were nice enough to get me out there to visit, which did ease most of my concerns and fears. Edmonton is a mid-sized city with a million people. And though it has all the recognizable markers of a big city (a glittering downtown skyline, bustling commercial mixed with residential centers, many opportunities for karaoke) it has some nice “nature” touches to it and in this regard, reminds me of Chicago a little for it also hosts a beautiful river that separates the city into a North and South Side. Instead of allowing massive development along the river, most of it (all of it) is protected as a park with ample trails, ripe and ready for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Apparently it also holds the distinction of being the sunniest city in Canada and is also 3 hours from the Canadian Rockies (Bannf and Jasper) though it is also one of the coldest cities too.

Of course, Edmonton represents the proliferation of place in my life, which while I enjoy, is not always easy to juggle, practically or emotionally. With each new place are a group of people who will now be part of a bulging package of folks that I rarely see, unless they are academics, and we go to the same conferences, or they hang out on IRC with me (and then I do see them everyday). But as my mother’s illness requires me to go home to Puerto Rico up and above any other place (unless it has to do with work), I am slowly losing ground and touch with many of my relationships. I have not been back to San Francisco since I left nearly 3 years ago, which is hard to believe, I miss most of my friends weddings, and always am reluctant to just go somewhere, because I usually choose to go to Puerto Rico instead.

But in the end, this situation of constant moving may not at some level be ideal, it is by no means tragic. I am lucky that I can visit my mother, that I do see friends when I travel going to great conferences and do keep in touch with friend in other ways, and I knew very well going into academia, that we are like the birds, a migratory flock, especially as junior scholars.

Now, my mom is incredibly excited about this gig at the U of A. After I explained to her the process by which one tries to get a job in the academy (ie. competing with 100-300 people for one spot), she fully comprehended and registered the difficulty of it all with a whopping “Conchale, eso es impossible” (Damn it, that sounds impossible), and then shuffled her diminutive self away shaking her head in a bob of worry, convinced more than ever that my fate as an academic was doomed. This was my first year on the job market and it is as tough and wild (though fun) as I was told.

Right around the time I told my mom about my departure to Canada, my mom also happened to listen to some radio program on the news about Canadian beef and now she thinks that Canada is Land-Of-Beef. And the funny thing is that Alberta is Beef Country.. So what she imagines, is in fact where I am going. Now if my mom was able to see on a map how far I will be (and I won’t really try to drive this point home with her), I think her excitement-barometer may drop a few notches. And that is of course my biggest reservation. To get home is costly and long, requiring a flight either from Edmonton to Chicago to San Juan; Edmonton to Calgary to Houston to San Juan; Edmonton to Toronto to NYC to San Juan. But then again, it is not that bad (especially now that I have a half decent computer with a decent battery life). One can leave within a day and get there that same day if need be.

So afte a summer of travel and writing, off I go in September, and if you ever need a place to stay in Edmonton, by all means, mi casa fria, es tu casa fria.

1 Comment »

  1. Biella,

    That is great! Congratulations! It sounds like you had to wipe your shoe with a couple hundred other applicants. The image of that pleases me to no end :)

    Strangely, Edmonton isn’t that far from Seattle so perhaps there is some karaoke collaboration in our near future. I’m heading out next week for my road trip with the Pops. Can’t wait.

    Again, Congrats. It’s good to know someone out there can make a living being an academic ;)

    Comment by Adam K — May 10, 2006 @ 7:30 pm

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