Severance and the Extended Mind

April 1st 2017 was both termination and April fool’s day. 

After a three month transition period to transfer projects, I was officially unemployed.  In contrast to my colleagues at early or mid-career, for me this amounted to an accelerated retirement and the transition period had given me a chance to think about what I would miss from my corporate scientist life.

At first, the loss of technology seemed most important and provoked some anxiety.  No more Scifinder, Spotfire, Pipeline Pilot, MOE, IPA, or D360.  On the other hand there would be freedom from pointless e-mails, and ‘management responsibilities’.  I wrote a couple of papers and calmed down.  After all, there are other paths to the scientific literature and open-source alternatives to some of my other favorite playthings. 

Then what I would really miss became clear - the opportunity to ‘talk science’ at a deep level during the daily interactions with fellow scientists of all disciplines.  There would be no more heated, confusing or enlightening debate on new concepts as they were proposed, challenged, refined and resolved.  This collaboration network meant far more to me than anything captured under the performance management umbrella of ‘productive interactions’, ‘influencing others’ or ‘achieving goals’.

Twenty years ago, Clark and Chalmers (http://consc.net/papers/extended.html) proposed the concept of the extended mind, where components of daily life extend consciousness and mental capacity.  My trusted Boehringer colleagues were, irreplaceably, part of my extended mind.  They helped me navigate the ambiguity, uncertainty and ignorance that accompany any new project.  They were the scientists in my group, experts in drug design and medicinal chemistry, and the colleagues from partner disciplines who taught me dialects of science beyond medicinal chemistry.  Essentially, these folks helped me function at the precipice of understanding and my success as a scientist is due to the time and effort they dedicated to working with me over the past years.

The opportunity to ‘talk science’ with these trusted colleagues is almost gone, it's time to extend in new directions.