Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Great Start in Ottawa

I slightly missed marking the completion of my first year in Ottawa, as I was busy giving my parents tours of the town and then preparing for the trip to Budapest.  But as I wait for my luggage to catch up to me, I thought I would reflect on the past year.

My career has been entirely unforeseen--I went to college expecting to be a doctor or a chemist, and I had not expected to end up in Texas, the Pentagon, or Canada.  But each move has been an improvement, with this latest move being incredibly rewarding.  Folks tend to be confused why I chose Ottawa over Montreal and Carleton over McGill, but it was a no-brainer at the time, and it has been given more obvious as the year flew by.

In the spirit of the site I attacked last week (, which actually is one of my favorite sites), I thought I would listicle  (in no particular order as I am still too jet-lagged to organize my thoughts): what do I like about Ottawa and NPSIA:
  1. Ottawa is so very manageable.  My commute ranges from being 1/3 to 1/2 of what I had before.  It makes it so much easier to enjoy the place.  Montreal has a lot of great stuff, but I rarely sought it out since getting around was such a huge hassle.  I love being able to run into work for just one meeting or for one event and then run home, instead of having to figure out whether something was worth an entire day of being downtown.
  2. Which means that 75% or more of my ultimate games are within 15 minutes of my house  (and none of the rest require an hour over congested bridges).   This may prolong my playing career by quite a bit.  And the ultimate here is quite good.  I miss my old teammates, but the league here is incredibly well organized and the most of the fields are super-sweet.  I will never play again in Carleton's fieldhouse (worst turf of my career), but otherwise, so much fun to play on such great surfaces.  
  3. The Byward Market.  Such a great place to meet up with friends, to interview folks who did interesting work in or related to Afghanistan, and to network with folks in and near government. 
  4. Living near a national government.  It has been a heap of fun, very productive, and just damn interesting to be in a city where the national government is located.  I have met with folks from the military, the Department of National Defence, Foreign Affairs, the secret squirrels, defence contractors, journalists, and more.  While the McG students thought I was moving to the less interesting place, they didn't get me--I never did the clubs of Montreal.  But the pubs of Ottawa, chock full of interesting people?  Indeed.
  5. Colonel By Drive.  This parkway gets me into downtown quickly and is the most scenic bit of road along the canal in summer and in winter. 
  6. The neighborhood.  We moved into a relatively new area--where nearly all the people on my semi-circle street have between one and four kids under ten.  The houses are close together, which I don't mind because it means less lawn to mow, facilitating conversations across the street.  Just super-friendly people, very helpful, with really cute kids.  The folks next to us just put up a trampoline with netting around it, making it the coolest playpen, chock full of squealing kids.  I don't mind the new soundtrack to my home office at all.
  7. Ottawa is the first place I have ever moved to where I had friends already (with the short move to Virgina being a pseudo-exception).  I fit in already, and have enjoyed many a beer and more recently some BBQ with friends I had made before coming here.  
  8. The place is just very friendly.  I feel far more comfortable whining to someone else in line at a store or office than in Montreal.  That partly has to do with the lack of language politics, but also just a general attitude.  The drivers are not as unfriendly as people seem to think, but perhaps my standards are lower after ten years of crazy Montreal driving and six years of clueless Lubbock drivers.
  9. While I miss the McGill students, I am really enjoying the NPSIA students.  They all have interesting experiences, most are already working parttime for the government, and I feel far less guilty/afraid about where they might end up.  Sure, nearly all of my McG Phd students got tenure track jobs, but that trend was going to end with the way the academic economy is going.  I still supervise PhD students, but fewer.   I still need to figure out how to teach policy oriented classes, and I have a new prep this upcoming year.  I do miss Intro to IR, but my teaching needed a shakeup after about twenty years (yes, it has been that long!).  
  10. I am loving the NPSIA experience.  My colleagues are all doing very interesting work in different areas of International Affairs with no pesky political theorists or Americans to game the place :).  Seriously though, I wish I could take all of my colleagues' classes, as I would certainly understand the world better.  We have more longer meetings than I would like, but that is the price of having a collegial enviroment.
  11. I am experiencing something I have had only once before and only briefly: a really terrific department leader (Director here, Chair elsewhere).  Sure, I ended up getting sucked into far more service than I would have preferred, but it is far easier to say yes when the "boss" listens and supports.  It has been so long and so rare that I had forgotten what it felt like.
  12. The rest of the Carleton admin with the noted except of the finance folks (who see profs and their outreach stuff as income-earning for the university) have been mighty supportive, from the Dean of Public Affairs, to the grants people to the parking folks (really!) to the computer support people, to human resources and beyond.  While the bureaucratic procedures are just as twisted and broken as McGill's but in different ways, the people populating most of them have been very helpful.  Of course, it may just be too soon.  It took McGill a few years to try to fire me twice (by not processing my new work permits), so perhaps this is just a honeymoon year.
  13. My daughter has had great opportunities, despite a strike at Ontario schools that cut into extra-curricular activities.  She is spending the summer interning at a theatre group as a stage manager.  Greatly complicates the summer but gives her some great chances to learn.  Her school has been a great experience, with new friends (no hazing for new students apparently), and starts an hour later (more sleep for all of us).  Much less stress.  She misses the old place, but she would have graduated last week (Quebec is strange), so we get one last year with her.
  14. My wife has enjoyed the new province, with a pretty terrific set of accessible doctors and an ER for my daughter that didn't feel like a third world hospital (unlike a certain suburban hospital in Montreal).  She has also enjoyed the friendlier community in the neighborhood and in the town.  
  15. I love my new house--big rooms, few problems, and the two car garage that made this winter much less annoying (no more morning scraping of ice off of the windshields).  Oh, and I love the parking garage at school as well--no digging the car out at the end of a snowy day.
The only real downside thus far has been snow removal.   We got ripped off by the folks who we hired to clear our driveway, and the city's snow removal seems to be the only part of the government that operates worse than Montreal's.  Oh, and the skiing is not as good, but we were losing access to much of Montreal's skiing as the bridges were facing collapse repairs.

So, it has been a mighty good year, and I have no regrets about making the move (although it would have been cool to experience McG with the new and significantly improved leadership). 


Dale Smith said...

Congrats on your first year. I just marked nine in Ottawa this week - time flies.

L'il Steve said...

As for #11, I'm sure your "once before" refers to Phil Marshall ;-).