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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Graduate School
Nine Months at Erowid
by Lux
Jun 2007
Citation:   Lux. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Graduate School: Nine Months at Erowid". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2007;12:11.
In September 2005 I gave six weeks' notice at a small technology company where I'd been working for six years, making a decent living doing something that really didn't interest me. I was haunted by the line in the movie Ed Wood where Orson Welles asks, "Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?"

I was haunted by the line in the movie Ed Wood where Orson Welles asks, "Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?"
I planned to return to graduate school to study psychology. My academic background is in philosophy, literature, and critical theory, with a side of graduate work in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies. I've also done a fair amount of work in cognitive science and systems theory. This might seem a bit eclectic, but I like to think of myself as a generalist. The common thread is my interest in the mind: how we co-create experience, who we are, what we are, and what it all means.

Over the next few months I enrolled in several psychology courses and had an intense couple of semesters getting up to speed in the discipline. I became relatively adept at reading and interpreting journal articles and understanding experimental design.

Even after all of these classes, I still didn't know where to focus. Graduate school would likely require specialization, and I'm a big picture kind of guy. I sometimes thought of my friend Josh, a recovering graduate student in computational neuroscience. Shortly before he dropped out of the program, Josh's advisor told him, in all seriousness, not to spend more than 15 minutes a month thinking about the big picture.

In September 2006 I started looking for a job to hold me over. As a matter of due diligence I sent an email to a community mailing list saying that I was looking for work. I got a reply from Earth asking, "Holy cow, I wonder if you would be interested in working on Erowid?" Minutes later, he received my reply: "Are you kidding?!? I would love to work at Erowid. LOVE it!"

A Day in the Life of Erowid
First, I met the core Erowid team. They wanted to check me out to see if I seemed relatively sane, and to make sure that I was actually interested in working and didn't have the wrong idea about what the work would be like. Based on the jokes I hear when I tell people that I work with Erowid, a common impression may be that a lot of personal "research" goes on here. I hope it won't disappoint anyone to learn that the truth is much more prosaic.

The Erowid day typically starts late--most of us aren't morning people. I usually wander into the office I share with Sylvia around 11:00 am. The first thing I do is plug my brain into the computer and download the last twenty-four hours' worth of news. Through a combination of mailing lists and news services I get a pretty thorough daily account of anything big going on in the world of psychoactives. If anything important comes up, I look into it further or add a link to the appropriate page on Erowid.

Then I start digging through our email "ticket" tracking system, looking at submissions, corrections, use requests, and random bits of you-name-it that fl oat into our email addresses. We get a lot. Dozens of colleagues and visitors write in every day asking questions about projects we're working on, pointing out information they think we'd be interested in, or requesting some sort of collaboration. We currently have more than 10,000 experience reports and 23,000 Ask Erowid questions waiting to be processed. If you write in with a question and it takes three months to get a reply, I hope that you won't take it personally and understand that we really do our best.

After this, I go to work on whatever projects are active. The first major project I undertook was an article for Erowid Extracts on the Johns Hopkins psilocybin study. I had a lot of interest in that experiment, a background in psychology of religion, and I know one of the authors of the Psychopharmacology article, so writing about it was a no-brainer.

At every step of the process of writing an article, whether for the site or for Erowid Extracts, I get valuable feedback and direction from my colleagues. For the most part, each person at Erowid knows what the others are working on, which inspires cooperation. This makes good use of our diff erent, and complementary knowledge and skills.

Earth and Fire work from home a few hours away, and we all communicate via IRC during the work day. We also chat daily with colleagues who have expertise in various areas: law, pharmacology, software applications, etc. Nearly everything we publish is vetted by experts in the appropriate fields, before going live.

The Erowid work day never quite ends. I often come home long after dark, only to find myself picking up a book by Shulgin or Wasson, or attending a local talk by someone whose work is covered on the site. That's the hook for me--my deep love of learning.

Random Memories
Erowid ran the psychoactive mushroom table at the Mycological Society of San Francisco Fungus Fair in Oakland again this year. At one point a gentleman approached us, hands overflowing with Psilocybe mushrooms that he had found on the grounds outside. He off ered them to us for display on our table. We politely declined.

At a recent social gathering, I met the author of a book that I had reviewed for Erowid. My review was favorable, but we have a strong diff erence of opinion on some matters, and I said as much in my writing. This could have led to an awkward meeting, but we ended up talking amiably for over an hour. It quickly became clear that our mutual love of psychopharmacology was stronger than our disagreement.

Perhaps my happiest Erowid memory is from my initial meeting with Earth and Fire, when I volunteered to do whatever degrading drudge-work they might have languishing around, and they told me what they would really like is for me to help produce and process new content for the site. At last, I'd found a place that an autodidact generalist mind-geek could call a home.