Stuck in a glass cage,
one hits harder than the rest,
ouchies all around

Phew. Every year, Fall means a slew of journal and conference deadlines in robotics academia. I had the good fortune of working with two postdocs on two separate sub-projects, and the bad fortune of having everything that could go wrong in those projects go wrong. Theory was okay. Experimental validation was marginal at best. Despite that, we still moved forward with write-ups for both, given that it's for the major annual robotics conference, and it still leaves us the option of re-submitting to some lower-tier conferences if either gets bounced by January. Wasn't entirely happy at all with either, but as I've been told before, "you have to do what you have to do to keep the lights on."

Academia may be the only place where succeeding doesn't mean you haven't failed, and not-failing doesn't mean that you've passed. I've begun to liken academia to figuring out the inner dimensions of a windowless, smoke-filled building when you've never seen the outside. Odds are good that groping around in that sort of environment wasn't your first choice gig, and the boss that sent you there ('cause let's be honest, you probably didn't send yourself there) won't let you out until you find the exit to the roof above all the smoke. Problem is, the floors aren't all connected, and there are multiple roofs, most of which are still shrouded in smoke. To get out, you either get lucky, or you fail fast and fail often. A select few make it, either through blind luck or sheer will. Some are content with the few peaks they reach, where the smoke is at least not so bad. Others don't make it anywhere and are left to peddle their limited knowledge of the dead-ends they've found to those who want to avoid the same pitfalls.

Continuing this god-forsaken analogy, let's say that the smoke clears ever so slightly every once in a while, just enough for you to get some insight into your current situation. Maybe you catch a glimpse of a map on a wall (mandatory fire exits ftw!), a sign that warns you of construction and blocked-off hallways ahead, or the carcass of a poor, forgotten soul who was just here before you. What do you do? You had a glimpse, nothing more, and you probably forgot your glasses at home, because the smoke's giving you memory problems. Whether you continue on your original way or change course, the decision's on you, and you have to deal with the consequences.

History (in academia and elsewhere) seems to reward those who blast through the signs that say "here be dragons," but it also conveniently fails to mention those who don't make it, no matter the sort of paper trail they leave behind. Maybe Murphy's Law is finally getting the best of me, but in a field where the goal is to push boundaries, the journey gets a tad exhausting when every door has a sticky lock and opens up into another bricked-in window.

tldr; Cube was a great movie