User Guide for Grad Students Worried about the End of the World

Note: I originally published this article in the 4th volume of The Brickyard, the graduate student publication edited and put together by a group of folks in the UC Davis Grad Group in Ecology.  You can find a link to that publication here, and the article below is largely the same.  I’ve made a few minor changes and conjugated the title in a more pleasing way. I hope you like it!

IMG_0443 

On the fourth day of the new presidential administration, I got an email from my funding source saying they didn’t know if the money would keep coming.  I knew the attitude toward science would shift with the change in power, but I never expected such concrete impacts to my life within the first week.  When my paycheck did come two weeks later, I knew I had to change my approach.  I wanted to feel I was working to make things better, and if I experienced a near miss, it’s almost certain someone else had taken the hit.  Like any good type A personality, I knew what I really needed was a plan.   

I read a lot of think pieces, I talked to a lot of folks I respect, and, in the end, I developed an approach that felt right for me.  I offer you my own guidelines now, not as prescription, but as an attempt to empower you to make a plan for how you will approach the coming years.  Interrogating my own motivations and priorities was emotionally taxing, time consuming, and frustrating.  Inventorying my special skills required grappling with imposter syndrome for the millionth, and I’m sure not last, time.  I still haven’t gotten over the daunting size of the issues we face, but as Cairns and Crawford once wrote, It is almost too late to start, but tomorrow is even later.”

——— Continue reading “User Guide for Grad Students Worried about the End of the World”

Grad School Blues

IMG_7240

Sometimes graduate school feels like diving into a lake on an early summer morning.  You know the cold will be shocking, but you feel confident that you’ll adjust.  You can’t quite see below the surface of the water, but you’re excited to submerge your head and open your eyes.  You swim out away from the shore.  It’s challenging.  And thrilling.  You’re testing yourself, and your body is responding. It’s downright joyful.

Sometimes, it’s like that dream you have just as you’re drifting off to sleep, where you feel like you’re falling.  You’re stomach and your heart are up in your throat.  You realize, on some level, that if you had the presence of mind to check, you’d probably actually be wearing a parachute.  But you can’t check, so you don’t.  And, in all likelihood, you’ll wake up with a gasp in your own bed, finding you aren’t falling at all, though you’ll still feel it in the pit of your stomach.  But you’ll go back to sleep, and when you wake up, you’ll probably think “Hey, I think I’d like a swim.”

********* Continue reading “Grad School Blues”

An Earnest Desire to Save the World

“TEACHER seeks pupil.
Must have an earnest desire to save the world.
Apply in person.” –Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

2012-07-24 15.29.45

As I continue to creep (crawl? stumble blindly? drag myself?) toward the completion of my PhD I have begun seriously contemplating what exactly I want to do when I grow up.  Progress has been slow and circuitous, much like this essay.  But I feel calmer than I did when I first realized “Be an ecologist!” had stopped being enough of an answer.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  

Regardless, I’ve been trying to take steps toward actually figuring this thing out for myself.  A bit of soul searching, a la Chelsea’s advice about a happiness brainstorm, really helped.  I’m happiest when I can travel but have a solid home base to return to, so I’m no longer prioritizing an academic career and the period of post-doctoral transience that usually comes along with it.  I’m happiest when I’m collaborating with lots of different folks who I can teach and learn from all the time.  I’m happiest when I can do public speaking and science communication, and I’d love to find a position where this is encouraged, valued, and incentivised.  I’m happiest when what I am working on makes a tangible difference.    Continue reading “An Earnest Desire to Save the World”