Don's Struggle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Don was an assistant professor at a state college. This was his fifth year there and was applying tenure track. His personal life also had a dramatic change. He was a little out of breath and struggling.

Submitted: July 04, 2016

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Submitted: July 04, 2016



Don’s Struggle

Don tried to change a position to sleep. He almost fell from the chair and woke up. “Gosh! How long have I been sleeping?” He sat back straight on chair and moved the computer mouse. The screen came back from dark displaying his proposal to National Science Foundation (NSF). The time at the right side bottom showed 10:36 PM. “About half an hour, I slept.” he mumbled. The proposal he had been preparing for two months was to apply funding to support his research, and was due tonight at 11:59 PM.

He stared at the screen. No need to go through it again. He remembered every word and formula he wrote. Every calculation had been done numerous times until he was absolutely sure it was a correct result. Every improvement he could think of was done. But, he was still not sure it would convince the NSF people to grant him the funding. He knew the proposal lacked breaking-through new ideas which he had been searching for since his graduate study.

His thoughts went back to his graduate study. The area of his interest was to gather vibration and noise data from the targeted machine shaft and analyze the signals to detect any failure. Shafts are the vulnerable and import parts in any machine. This technique makes the maintenance work much easier. He was fascinated. His adviser told him the technique was already quite mature if the sensor was directed placed on the shaft and the failure was caused by cracking. He could improve in two areas: one was to see if the same data collected could be used to detect other types of failure such as bending, twisting, or corrosion; the second was to see if the sensor could be placed outside on the machine to detect the shaft failure. He was curious if he could do that. Since then, he might have collected millions data, if not billions, to try to find any patterns. He made some progress, but was always a pace slower than somebody else in the same field. The main problem still remains unsolved: how to generalize the technique and put it into production that can be applied to all different kinds of machines. After his PH.D graduation, he worked another three years as a post-doctor until he found a teaching position in the state university. By this time, he was thirty-one years old and still did not have a girl-friend. His ex-girl-friend left him two years ago. He didn’t blame her. He was a nerd in most people’s eyes and his post-doctor salary could barely afford his own living expenses. He only wished her the best.

His parents introduced Dinla, his current wife, to him. “Dad and Mom, you never own me anything. You always help me out when I need it. I love you both.” he said to himself and tried to hold back his tears in his eyes. He and the girl met at a coffee shop at his hometown when he was in two-week summer break. She was nine years younger than him and just had her college degree a year ago. The hometown atmosphere made their conversation smooth and happy. He could feel she liked him. This was important because he liked her at the first sight. They met every day and had lunch and dinner together most of the time. When he left for his work, they both agree to continue the relationship. Six months later, Dinla moved to the city of his university and married him. The new woman in his life inspired him dramatically. He swore to himself numerous times “I will take care of her very well.”

A year later, they had a baby girl. They named her Clara. He felt overwhelmingly happy and responsible. He was amazed that the little baby could generate so much energy in the home. Then problems emerged. They were exhausted. His wife was young and became emotionally unstable. Sometimes she simply could not even take care herself well. He felt he had two children now, one was his wife. He didn’t complain because he remembered his promise. The only thing he worried about was he had less time to do his research. His solution was: picking only the important things to do and lowering his living standard.

Now Clara was one-year old and could sleep overnight. She was running everywhere and loved to be outdoor. He had to watch out her carefully. Dinla was getting better. He felt relieved.

As an assistant professor, the tenure evaluation was like a knife hung above his head. He constantly felt urgent. He had six years to prove to his department colleagues that he was qualified to be promoted to tenure position. He is always a modest and easy-going person. He became more humble and always under stress. He was out of breath a little and felt he was struggling. This was his fifth year here. If the proposal would be granted, everything would be fine. The funding was not just for himself. He could keep his five graduate students to do research.

He shook his head and rubbed his face with his hands. “I wandered away too far.” he whispered. He looked at the screen again and changed all “my five graduate students” to “my five brilliant graduate students.” Then, he clicked save button and submitted his proposal online to NSF.


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