Reading and writing
Technical writing brings a sense of personal accomplishment. It puts food on the table. It is part of my official work. It is what I need to do every day. And, I hope, it has some impact on what happens around me, whether in advancing science or in improving how society works. No, really, I’m not proud; I can live with either. Yet other work—not completely random of course but related to what I do (e.g., in Newsweek [December 2005] or on BBC Panorama [November 2004]) although not in my official job description—bring something else. People you didn’t think would be interested in what you say end up touched somehow. People all over the world reach out to you. They want to understand too. They figure you’ve shed some light on their concerns and their worries. They tell you what it means to them, what you’ve said.
Maybe exactly how much we academics get paid in our official jobs just isn’t that important, when we have been gifted with such opportunity and when -rightly or wrongly- so many people out there feel what we do matters to them. Then again, however, Steven Spielberg has all this too, and gets paid a lot more than academics do. But, of course, he has to do that 24/7, and can’t retreat into technical writing.