This year, I will spend most of the year at CERN. This is for a couple of reasons, both of which are strongly correlated.
First of all, after the third year of an assistant professor position at SMU, I can apply for a one-semester leave from teaching with full pay. This is so that I can focus on my research program, which is supposed to be where I spend most of my time. After the third year review, this is supposed to be an opportunity provided by the University to make that last important push on research before the tenure review.
Second, I was appointed as the co-convener of a Higgs Analysis Sub-group in ATLAS last October. I’ve been in Dallas for the first three months of the position, balancing teaching (which was unexpectedly heavy this past semester, owing to the illness of the professor with whom I taught my course) and research. Co-teaching was supposed to be a relief of burden, but life intervened and the department pulled together to try to compensate. Still, I got less done than I wanted. Going to CERN is a chance to take full advantage of that lack of teaching responsibility for the semester.
Being a co-convener AT CERN is critical to being successful at co-convening. Being 7 hours displaced does not make for an effective effort. Things will be much better in terms of distributing the load with my co-convener once I get to CERN.
Today, I spent the day in Houston. I went to the French Consulate for my visa interview. Thanks to the letter of invitation from CERN, it was easy to do. I watched a number of students and casual visitors ahead of me in the queue get GRILLED over paperwork, financial support, etc. When it came to my turn, all they did was take my paperwork and curse at the system. They actually stopped yelling at the computer at one point, turned to me, and said, “Sir, it is not you. It is this awful system.” Visas to work at CERN and live in France are covered by certain agreements; as a result, there is less paperwork but apparently the way the computer system handles them is a bit weirder than the standard student or visitor visas.
I had time for a sandwich and a coffee afterward, then I grabbed a cab and now I am back at the airport. I am even on an earlier flight into Dallas, just in time to get home and have dinner with Jodi.
This will be a difficult year. Jodi and I will be mostly apart for the first 7 months. She has a leave, too, but she has a lab to run and a group to work with and manage in Dallas. She can’t spend all that time with me at CERN. Being at CERN alone has certain advantages – I can live like a slob and I don’t have to worry about finding a big apartment or anything like that. Still, I’ve not been apart from Jodi this long since graduate school, so it will be VERY unpleasant as time goes on.