Friday, May 2, 2008

Rob Takes Community College Position in Kansas

That's right friends and cyber-fans, I just accepted a job offer to join the biology faculty at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Hutchinson is about one hour northwest of Wichita. Community college?!? Kansas?!? Please, please, let me explain. (Above is a representative picture of the landscape outside Hutchinson.)

1. Why not research? It took a few years, but I finally figured out that I don't want to keep doing molecular biology research. I think to do science as a career (or any academic research for that matter) it has to be something you think about often and are excited about. I love studying biology and I have really enjoyed teaching my first class this semester, but I don't think I am suited to doing research. I'm not methodical and careful enough when there are so many ways to make mistakes on experiments. Also it is difficult to invest the mental and emotional energy into something I don't really enjoy. Finally, I don't want to spend the time necessary just to keep a lab funded.

2. So why a community college? I really enjoy teaching. Of course I could teach at a four-year institution, but the community college route fits well with reason number three. (Above is the original 1928 building at Hutchinson CC. Also above is the Cosmosphere. It's a space museum sponsored by the Smithsonian that is attached to our campus.

3. Why Kansas? My secret goal (secret from everyone except this privy audience of course) is to start a small, diversified, low-input family farm. I applied to community colleges in areas where land was cheap and the climate wasn't too extreme--although I hear the summers can get nasty in KS. I really liked the people at Hutchinson CC and there is good land in the area. Also, it is actually within driving distance of Utah so visiting family will be affordable. Since I have no clue what running a farm really entails, Taliatha convinced me to not quit my day job in the meantime. My faculty position is a nine month appointment so I will have summers off to work on my farm. (Above left are some of the local inhabitants. Check out the Cattle Egret mingling with the cows. These farms are just east of Hutchinson in an Amish community.)
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  1. What?!? Now I'm mad! We're leaving Kansas City in a week, and youguys are going to be moving out here! Why not while we were here?
    Oh well, it totally seems to be the way things go, doesn't it? Sure would've been fun to get together.

  2. Congratulations, Rob! I think you'll find that you can mix farming with teaching pretty easily. There was another grad student in my department at Washington State who was more or less running his family's farm in Montana through his whole Master's and PhD programs. And now he's going to work at the University of Kentucky, and is so confident that he can continue to work and farm that he's buying 2000 acres of land in Eastern Montana.

    Now I have another reason to be upset that K-State didn't hire me.

    Are you looking at land in Hutchinson? Do you know what kinds of crops (livestock?) you want to produce? I'm really intrigued by your decision. I guess that's not too surprising considering I'm surrounded by agricultural research. I might come knocking on your door, looking for data some day.

  3. This IS exciting. Congrats.

    Farming huh? Are you going to grow corn for ethanol and corn syrup, sit back and get rich off uncle sucker?

    That's about all I know about farming, government subsides on corn.

    I'm impressed with your decision, seems a bit like 'the road less traveled' which is very cool, yet smart since you'll like what you're doing and won't get burned out. Nice work Holmes.

  4. Congrats Holmes. That's great. It's a small enough school that you can quickly rise to power wrest control over the school from the president and then use the student body to build evil farm robots or not.

    Hey speaking of farming and food have you read Omnivore's Dilemma, I think you'd like it. I'm half way through and it's pretty interesting, especially about how corn has taken over our lives, seriously.

  5. Ginna--You guys can always move back to Kansas after the residency, right?

    Aaron-We're looking to start out with 5-15 acres at first and learn as we go. I'm mostly interested in raising livestock on pasture. Crop cultivation is not really economical on any small scale--as I'm sure you understand--because of the costs of inputs and equipment. I don't know if you know anything about management intensive grazing with multiple, complementary types of animals, but that is the route I'm looking at. I'm thinking of all of the typical animals: cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats. We'll start with growing our own food and build from there. My main goal is to not take on any debt and to grow the farm as we find markets for whatever we end up producing.

    Tone--Sorry no corn. Too expensive to get started and not really a family friendly enterprise. Of course, we'll grow some sweet corn for our own consumption.

    Mat--I've heard a lot about the book but I haven't read it yet. I follow agriculture/food issues pretty closely though so I'm with a lot of the content.

  6. Congratulations! This should be a fun new adventure for you and your family. Best of Luck!

  7. Congrats, and I am sooooo jealous of the farm! I whisper "20 acres in Canada" in Matt's ear while he is sleeping in hope that someday I will reach his subconscience. If you have a goat I may show up on your doorstep.

  8. I never would have predicted you'd grow up to be a farmer. I just never saw that coming.

  9. Cathy-Goats may be in the plan if I like goat meat, or milk. I've only eaten goat once and I can't remember if I liked it or not. I don't recall ever drinking goat's milk. I may get a dairy goat just to see if I really do want to milk something every day or if it just sounds okay until I actually have to do it.

    Smash-No kidding, it's crazy what graduate school can do to a person.

  10. I took the kids to Wheeler Historic Farm in Salt Lake a couple weeks ago, and milked my first cow (meaning I, along with about a hundred other people, got a turn), and was bitten by the same farming bug. I tried to convince Kara afterwards that we should get some chickens, maybe a goat. She said no, but we could plant squash and tomatoes if I wanted. So I did. And I'm also putting in some grean beans and peas and watermelon and raspberries. I also buried some potatoes that had buds growing on them. We'll see what happens. And I'm glad to say that the most important of all vegetables, the rhubarb that we planted last year, is doing gangbusters and has already produced one delicious harvest.

    Congratulations on the job, as well. I applied to four colleges this year, and got zero interviews. So I'll stick with teaching high school for the time being. They don't have teacher appreciation week (which just so happens to be this week) at stupid college anyway, frickin' blowhards. Nor would I get to take my wife to prom. Which I'm going to do next week. See ya, suckas!

  11. Rob- Goat milk is great for soap, if you decide you want to give it a try let me know I have some easy to follow instructions.

  12. Great, I'll keep that in mind. I've heard of people making soap with it but I've never learned anything about the process.