Monday, July 11, 2011

One of these things is not like the other one

one of these things is NOT the same...

This is how I felt in grad school. Surrounded by weirdly serious ducks that kept telling me that I should be just like them and that if I wasn't just like them... serious, unhappy, non-smiling, floating on top of the water... I wasn't working hard enough. I found this to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of.

If I was happy and smiling and laughing I wasn't working hard enough? WTF? What kind of sad horrible place did these people live in? You have to work so hard that you are miserable?

Grad school was a strange place, another world almost, for me. I thought that because we all loved water we would get along but it turns out some of us like to be happy swimming turtles and others like to float on top of the water being unnecessarily serious and never looking underneath the surface.

The people at my grad school, the very successful professors and such, they were WRONG! So very very wrong.... amazingly WRONG! You can be totally happy, you can swim on the surface and underneath the water, you can smile and laugh and have fun WHILE working hard. You can be happy and successful --- these things are not mutually exclusive.

So now with the distance space (about 3,000 miles) and time (two years), when I think about my graduate experience I no longer get angry sad. I just feel really really sorry for the people who have come to believe that the only way to do good science is to sacrifice your happiness.

Life is good, don't let the serious ducks convince you otherwise.*

*this moment of cheese brought to you by new awesome data, a smiling baby, and officemates who make you coffee.


  1. Life is good, don't let the serious ducks convince you otherwise.

    I've just written this statement out on a card and taped it to my desk :)

  2. Sigh, I wish I could work with you! I had a few awesome, exciting collaborators in grad school but am totally missing out in my postdoc. There's some sneaky workaholism here, and it's making me feel guilty for not wanting to commit my whole life to my work. I wish I had more portable enthusiasm. :P This is my first time at your blog--are you leaning toward TT? If so, how do you keep up enthusiasm in the face of all the competition and uncertainty? (Not trying to get you down--it's a genuine question.)

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    I credit my father for my attitude about life in general. We are immigrants and at least three times my father has had to re-build our lives from scratch. He always remained positive, in the face of overwhelming odds, because (according to him) what he was looking for was happiness not a particular income level or position.

    So I am trying my best to take that lesson to heart. I'm not saying I don't have goals, I totally want a TT position! But I realize that there are lot of jobs/positions/experiences out there that can make me happy.

    My path through science has been bumpy and untraditional so far, I have done a lot of things THAT YOU SHOULDN"T DO according to the 'experts' and I am still fairly successful. So I guess I figure I will stick to being me, it seems to be working so far. And at some point if it doesn't work out, I will do something else.

    Also beer, chocolate, and friends can really help.

  4. That is an awesome perspective. I realize I'm still trying to shake the one I grew up with. I had "high-[professionally-]performing" parents--that's not to say that they had it any harder than immigrants, but they were ambitious within the realms of their professions and were on a more linear path and didn't ever move off it. These professions were very competitive and demanding. I think I internalized this idea that one really shouldn't "screw up" along the way; it was all about going to great schools and doing really well and getting the "best" job possible. Obviously, I've been sticking to something that's not terribly glamorous (science) because I love it, but my default feeling is one of anxiety that I might not make it to the next level and will have to "throw it all away". And I think that's kind of dumb... especially because many days I think I might be happier going into a new line of work entirely!

    Thanks so much for the perspective, PQA! I'll be thinking about it.