Tribulations of Elsewhere: Challenges of a Wandering Mind

It’s 11 or so in the morning, on campus. I sit with my advisor in her sweltering office; she’s propped open the window to allow some minuscule amount of air to circulate before the rain starts and she has to close it.

We’re discussing adding a part B to our experiment – looking at not only the effects of high blood glucose on the circadian rhythms of peroxiredoxins in red blood cells, but now also at the relationship between glucose metabolism and sleep interruption in mice. We talk, while I make notes in my thesis journal and planner.

“By when should I have the IACUC protocol finished?” I ask her. An IACUC protocol is something every researcher who works with animals needs to complete – it explains in detail the nature of your animal research and justifies the use of animals. It also must ensure that animals experience minimal pain, fear, and discomfort. It is essentially a safeguard against animal cruelty.

It’s a lot of work, and deadlines help me get focused.

“Can you get it done by the 26th?” she asks me, forever faithful in my ability to buckle down and get shit done.

“Yes! Definitely, ” I respond. That’s two weeks away. No problem, I tell myself.

“Well, you’re super organized, so I’m sure you can get it done,” says my advisor.

I laugh. I laugh hard. “That’s a funny joke,” I tell her. I make a note on August 26th in my planner.

I leave my advisor’s office, walking out onto the glistening concrete, which contrasts so sharply with the bright green leaves of the Oak Grove. I can get to work on that protocol right away, I think. I can get started today!

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I find that as soon as I sit down to read an article, to write some notes, or read over my work so far, I am terribly distracted. 

I immediately begin daydreaming about fall. Maybe this fall we’ll take a trip up to Erie, I fantasize. Or go to Ligonier and see some historic sites while drinking hot apple cider and cuddling on a horse-drawn carriage. Or Canada! O, Canada! Maybe we could even move to Canada for our PhDs! Or better yet, somewhere Nordic. We could get a whole team of huskies and drive it to work every day…

It is almost – and I say this with utmost love and appreciation for my own brain – as if my brain is trying to sabotage my academic progress.

Even as I write this, I’m supposed to be reading papers. Instead, I’m writing about how I have trouble focusing on papers. SEE THE IRONY?? See how bad it is?

Explaining this phenomenon – which is more than simple distraction – requires a bit of backstory on my part.

All throughout my childhood and teenage years, my family moved frequently. Probably – and this is a conservative estimate – every two years. So from the time I was born to the time I moved into my own place with John after college, I probably moved ten or eleven times. They weren’t even major moves – just from house to house, one town over, because our lease was up or the landlord was untrustworthy.

You get the idea.

Anyway, I think this rubbed off on me, even though I swore up and down as a teenager and young adult that I would never, ever be a nomad, that I would always enjoy the present time and place. I watched my parents constantly think about the upcoming hours and days, never stopping even on vacation to enjoy a view or explore a new city or town, always worried about what was next. I promised myself I wouldn’t be like that.

… yet here I am, fantasizing about elsewhere.

More and more, I am beginning to believe that perhaps I am not wired to stay in one place. Maybe, just maybe, I am wired to explore.

Being a perpetual academic has its advantages. Sure, it’s absurdly expensive, you’re always tucked away in a little alcove of the library reading or writing papers, or holed up in the lab, or hanging out with other nerds. But it also gives you the freedom to go places. It gives you the freedom to explore.

I realize now that with a Master’s in Biology – which I would like to have done within the next year – I can make a realistic goal to pursue PhD work literally wherever I want to. I am not restricted to the US! I’m not restricted to this continent! I can go to the countries that I’ve dreamed about visiting forever and actually conduct academic work there. The UK? Absolutely feasible. Sweden? Completely do-able, although I might have to live in a cardboard box. Spain? France? Ireland? All entirely possible.  Competitive, and possibly very scary…. but possible.

My work also lends itself to collaboration with scientists in other countries – what university isn’t invested in diabetes and metabolic research? Most are, to some degree; metabolic research is the hot topic right now and isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.

Not to mention the international conferences that one can attend while conducting research! The possibilities are endless.

I think that this passion for exploring different cities, states, and hopefully countries is the very same passion that drives me to explore proteins and cell interactions and physiological relationships. I think it’s the very same love, the very same desire to keep moving, to travel into new territory.

Perhaps my nomadic nature – the constant tribulation of elsewhere – is more of a blessing than a curse after all.

🙂

 

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