Friday, August 30, 2013

End-of-Summer Thoughts


The richness of summer. My life in general is rich—I have a complicated and multifaceted career, a spouse also with a full career, a fascinating and strong-willed child who now towers over me, close family, neighbors, friends, a great city with much to explore, etc. There was something about uprooting myself from my normal life here, and temporarily re-planting myself on the opposite coast, in the middle of another great city, that opened my eyes even wider to the richness of the world. It was overwhelming and exciting—the art, the music, theater, people, food, shopping, neighborhoods. For every bit I chose to do, there were hundreds more options that I couldn’t do. And the same was true of the internal, intellectual life: books, readings, newspapers, magazines (I stayed away from the internet mostly—but that’s a whole rich world too).  And science, science, science—doing, thinking, reading, writing.  And then—the people! Old friends, new friends, family, cousins, colleagues.  So much richness! And yes, I’ve brought it all back with me—my eyes are opened just a little bit wider.

Summer anxiety. I have more generalized anxiety than some, less than others. My anxiety took on a completely different quality this summer. While I usually experience anxiety as a force of compression, this summer it changed sign, and felt extensional. Without my son, without spouse, home, lab, friends, routine—I started to feel a little bit untethered, like a rising helium balloon expanding as the internal pressure overrides the external. After a few weeks, I achieved a new equilibrium, and with an increased awareness of my and others' anxiety.

FemSTEM / ProfessionalWomenWoes The blogs, articles, tweets that illuminate the stories of women (and minority and other groups) simultaneously resonate with me and repulse me. I share so many of these experiences, have so much empathy, and yet the onslaught of agita makes me want to ignore the fact that I am a women—after all it’s so much beside the point when I’m a scientist—and just bury my head in my work. I’m pretty sure my best contribution to the discussion is to continue being myself—my imperfect, female, scientist-y, brainy, busy, arrogant, insecure, self—and continue to elevate my craft as a scientist. That, and nominate lots of women at all stages for lots of awards & honors.

Sabbatical Plans. I’m taking sabbatical time this year. My goals are to submit several backlogged papers and two big proposals, and to spend lots of time doing science with students & postdocs. I will also think about my next professional steps—which will honor the fact that increasingly I need the connections in order to feel fulfilled—the connections between people-people, ideas-ideas, and people-ideas. How do I build the community that I thrive?

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