Sunday, February 21, 2010

Consistency along an unpredictable path

Continuity. As scientists, it's something most of us seek each day with every experiment. We look for consistency in our results, and when it is missing, we go back to see what went wrong. We search for those self-consistent details in our system, and if something does not meet expectations, we begin thinking of possible explanations, alternative interpretations, missing pieces of the puzzle.

Yet I sometimes have trouble identifying continuity in my life. My early career has sometimes felt like a random walk, bouncing between cities, adding and merging disciplines and skills, tweaking the path of my research and my career, sometimes making big decisions largely on the basis of a gut feeling. The last two or more years have been especially difficult, bringing doubt and guilt about choices I made regarding my career and my family. What seemed at times to be constant change and continual doubt was absolutely disorienting.

There has been one constant through this insanity: my husband, Paramed. Many people talk about the two-body problem--the challenge of organizing and executing two independent career paths, preferably in the same or nearby cities. It's stressful, frustrating, exhausting but can also be exciting and satisfying when things come together; sometimes it's a mix of all these thing. But there can be advantages to this "problem". I haven't had to worry about finding a roommate. There's someone around to help out with the laundry and cooking when I'm swamped...

Most importantly, I get to come home and talk to my best friend nearly every day. And that has been integral to maintaining another essential aspect of continuity in my life: staying true to myself. Training and work--from elementary school to EMS work to research--bring out the type A personality in me. I put a lot of myself into my work--some might say too much. I expect as much, if not more, of myself as my advisers have and do. From my viewpoint, this, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. But some institutions (like the one I'm in now) have a reputation for changing people--and not in a good way. Or maybe it's just the training process in general that changes people. I don't know. It's easy to become mired in politics, to let the stress get to you, to lash out because of your own insecurities. These things have happened to me and sometimes still do. Paramed knows me well enough to see when this is happening. He has listened to me rant and vent and cry. He has provided encouragement. He has told me when I'm being ridiculous or out of line or wrong (trust me not easy--I was born a red-head, and a stubborn one at that). He has asked me the questions I refused to ask myself. In short, he has been my minder, my Sam, the one who reminds me who I really am. Who I am is just as important as what I do. With help from my friend, I hope that is something that will remain consistent through out my life.


This is my contribution for the Scientiae Carnival
. There are still a few days to submit, so go forth and blog! :)