The last two weeks I have been posting about some fairly heavy stuff, I guess, like institutionalized sexism in the sciences in academia and the importance of finding the right level of stress for maximum personal satisfaction and productivity. I don’t want to minimize the impact of those topics or their effects on young academics (and especially those in the sciences since that’s where my experience lies), but I also don’t want to come across as completely discouraging.
Please bear with me. I’m much better at encouraging specific individuals in specific endeavors than I am at writing more general encouragement. But I am going to try because honestly, I love science and I don’t want to push anyone away from it.
I love science because it is a helpful way to think about problems and to work towards solutions. I love science because while truth is stranger than fiction, nature is by far the strangest thing of all. I love science because now the plants and animals have names, scientific and common, that let me know not only them a little a more, but their discoverers as well. I love science because of the hawk moth and its orchid. I love science because even though (or is it especially because?) it isn’t always right and it definitely isn’t objective, it has lofty goals and ambitions and it works to achieve them.
It’s a real bitch that that enthusiasm isn’t sufficient. But, honestly, it almost is. It is ridiculous how much you can accomplish when work doesn’t always feel like work, or when you’re absolutely motivated and driven by the questions you’re asking and field you’ve chosen. General enthusiasm has propelled me through a large chunk of my experiences so far, including some particularly tricky stretches that involved saying “yes” to entirely too many projects.
Still, even with enthusiasm, there are many real obstacles and challenges to overcome or address. Facing the same things, over and over again, understanding that the solutions are sometimes beyond your control, knowing that you have to prove yourself and then some can be so draining. I understand why someone would choose not to enter or stay in this field. We all face so many journeys in our everyday lives; there is nothing wrong in saying that this is not a hill on which you want to die.
If this is your hill, if this is the path you have an interest in starting down ““ do it. It’s worth a shot and fortunately, these paths are not lined with guard rails keeping your movement fixed, like a car shuttling down a long, long bridge. The paths branch off and intertwine and sometimes loop back on themselves. You can start your journey one place and find yourself somewhere completely unexpected. Isn’t that a relief? It is for me. After all, all I know now is who I am now, what I like now, and where seems interesting now. Future Me, enriched with new experiences and knowledge, could have a completely different plan. But the only way Future Me will get there is if Present Me takes that first step.