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Give and Take

Fair warning: this is going to read like a diary.

I’ve been in a bit of a bind these days – weeks really – where I want to give but I feel like everyone is taking. And I know that doesn’t necessarily make sense, so I’ll try (but inevitably fail) to explain.

I like giving. I like giving my time in the sense that I want to listen to my friends and participate in events that benefit others. I like giving food in that I *love* cooking for other people (way more than just cooking for myself). I like giving people books to read, or presents for no reason; sending notes or flowers to just remind them they’re appreciated. I like giving smiles and hugs to people when they’re feeling down or just passing me on the street.

I know that I live a blessed life – I’m truly not wanting for anything. I have a job I love and I live in a beautiful city and I’ve got tons of friends and I am incredibly lucky that I can afford pretty much anything I want. (Obviously, I’m not drowning in wealth – I can’t buy a yacht or some nonsense like that, but I have enough money in the bank that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, if some disaster befell me or I needed to fly home tomorrow, I could manage.)

And I know that I like sharing my life with people. I like giving where I can and what I can and I don’t expect anything in return. At least part of giving is that it feels nice to share, and I’m not ashamed to say that I like giving because I feel better afterwards.

But I feel like many of my friends have become complacent. They expect things from me. What was once give has now become take. I feel like I’m no longer giving, rather that they are taking.

I want to be the rock for my friends – someone they can always talk to. But there are only so many times that I can give my time to hear the same sob story before I feel like they’re just taking that time away from me. I’m happy to give my advice, but when it goes unheeded, I wonder if it was worth it at all.

I want to offer dinner to them, but when they come by every night and never even offer to help cook or clean or shop for ingredients, it begins to feel like a chore. They’re taking my food, my time, and even my enjoyment of cooking for guests.

I love sharing my library with friends, giving book suggestions and letting them borrow from my shelves. But when I come home, excited to start a book that has been constantly pushed down my list by school work and work work, to find that it has been taken by a friend on vacation without so much as a note, I feel like they’ve violated my trust.

I’m happy to share my dishes and appliances, and I know accidents happen. But when things of mine get broken and no one bothers to tell me until I ask, I wonder if I matter to them at all.

And all these thoughts lead me to wonder: from whom do I take? Are there people who I inadvertently take advantage of – because I know my friends aren’t taking from me on purpose. In reality, they aren’t taking from me at all. They’re leaning on me in times of support, they’re spending quality time with close friends and good food, they’re reading my favorite books and talking to me about them. Yet I often feel frustrated by their actions and annoyed by what I perceive as callousness.

I want to give, and I know I take. They’re two sides of the same coin, and neither exists without the other. But the thing is: we all know when we give but we rarely notice when we take. I try to notice, and I’ve been trying especially hard recently as I’ve been especially frustrated. And I’ve simultaneously trying to notice and let go of the feeling that I’ve been taken from. But again, who do I forget to thank? And how I do I know I’ve forgotten?

So if you are someone I’ve been accidentally taking from, recently or for years, thank you. Please know I appreciate everything you are giving.

Work vs. Play vs. School

I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I’ve always set as my “someday goal” an upper level management position, or a significant government post, or a professor at a named institution. I’ve just always oscillated between these as I changed my interests and my ultimate destination. Many friends of mine never questioned what they were going to do with their lives. (High school friends who knew they were going to be doctors and just partook in their white coat ceremonies, for example.) But I’ve never really known. I took a windy path, one could say, to end up where I am now.

But I had a moment last week that reminded me that where I am now is exactly where I want to be. It was the weekend, I was reading for fun. I was reading Science (if that doesn’t tell you a bit about who I am becoming…) and came across an article about “Yellow Lights” in science – basically that the current stop & go regulatory frameworks that are commonplace make it incredibly difficult to innovate in expensive industries. The article focuses on the complex FDA requirements and high biomedical expenses and argues that more flexible regulations – a yellow light or “California Roll,” if you will – could allow new and safe products to get to market (and help patients) faster. (Interestingly, an earlier magazine (June 12) focused a lot on innovative spaces – primarily in Cambridge, MA and the SF Bay Area – that allow biomedical startups to share workspaces and expensive machinery to compensate for these difficulties.)

Remember, I was reading for fun.

And then I realized I was also reading for work. Because my current task is to analyze the FDA regulatory structures and attempt to find ways the NRC could potentially mimic successful FDA frameworks. And this yellow light idea is definitely one to steal, for it would allow reactor designs that are more efficient but differ significantly from those currently on line to be approved in stages. This would in turn allow the designers to find funding in stages, instead of looking for a couple billion dollars on day one.

And then I realized I was also reading for school. Because part of my research project this fall is to look at other industries – I had planned originally to focus on technologies that inspired a regulatory overhaul, but the FDA parallel structure briefly mentioned in the article (and which I’ve thoroughly researched since then) could also be a perfect case study for comparison. Oh wait, that’s what I’m to complete over the next two weeks at work! And then I’ll rewrite it for school. And the book I’m currently reading for fun is about the beginnings of computer science; I haven’t gotten to anything significant about regulations, but I’m only 1/3 of the way through the book. So maybe my fun reading will become school too. Less likely, but still possible, it might become work.

So work is becoming school is becoming play is becoming work is becoming …

And while I know my parents have discussions where they go back and forth – one is proud of what I’ve done and the experiences I’ve had, while the other is distinctly more aware of the incredibly accomplished people my age who knew what they wanted years ago and have a much more focused resume – I always remember what I’ve noticed about the CVs of the professors I’ve admired and the industrial professionals I’ve looked up to: they’re usually missing a few years. Their resumes and CVs list their undergraduate graduation date and, with only a couple exceptions, nearly nothing can be found within five years of that date in either direction. Maybe an internship with a particularly significant politician, or a summer job at a big name company. But usually, nothing.

I often remind my friends about this while they stress about finding the perfect job today that will set them up for their dreams tomorrow. I remind them that the people we dream to become did something, presumably, for those few years, but it didn’t hold enough importance, relevance, whatever. Even just ten years out, those few post-college years became professionally irrelevant.

Obviously, I don’t want to aimlessly wander for a few years on the assumption that I can take them off my resume when I become who I want to be. I’m not squandering my immediate future because the resumes of people I idolize don’t mention that part of their lives. But I am using this reality – because it is reality – to remind myself that this is the time of my life when I should be doing what I want to be doing. This is the time when I should pursue jobs where expectations at work and the things I’m passionate about align, because that’s how I’ll get to the dream jobs I’ve always seen myself in.

And with that, I’m off to read an article that’s long been on my list of things that sound interesting. My fun list, if you will. I just put it off until an hour when I could say I read it for work, because its relevant to that too. ;)

Eggplant Update

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make a new eggplant-based dish every day last week. But that’s mostly because the dishes I did make were good for multiple meals – dinner for two, lunch the next day, another lunch for two. But they were also delicious, so I guess eggplant week was successful in that I’m no longer scared of making dishes with eggplant.

I made two more eggplant dishes/meals, both stolen from some of my favorite food blogs:

First was a Cheesy Eggplant Bake from Home&Plate, which was basically eggplant lasagna but better. It was a bit too liquidy for my taste, so if (when?) I make it again, I’ll probably use a bit less tomato, or let it bake a bit longer. But it was truly tasty, cheesy as promised, and multiple friends I shared it with were fans. Unfortunately, both this dish and the next one got eaten before pictures happened…oops. But if that isn’t a testament to how delicious they were, nothing is.

The second dish was absolutely amazing, like basically everything from Smitten Kitchen: Baked Orzo with Eggplant. Again, filled with cheese and melted and beautiful in every possible way. Most significantly, I think, is that this recipe can (and will!) be adapted to literally any and every in-season vegetable.

In other news, the new Boston Public Market has just opened up (no, not Boston Market the restaurant!). This is a locally-sourced produce/food market with 30+ vendors open five days a week at Haymarket. While I don’t plan on making the trek down there during the summer for my produce, I almost certainly will be going down there in the winter to get some fresh, locally grown produce once the fall rolls around and the majority of farmers markets close their doors so to speak for the season.

AKA a world of acronyms

It’s a running joke: politics is a world of acronyms. Just think the Alphabet Agencies of FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression. I know that. But dear God, is it a world of acronyms.

I had my first day of meetings at my new job earlier this week – a week early because the meetings were to present the nature of the company to a potential donor, and my boss thought it might be useful for me to sit in and get to know what all the company’s really about. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Well now, I’ve got the following list of acronyms to look up. All these acronyms were thrown around by the other people in the room and never defined (if they were eventually defined, I wrote that down too). Admittedly, this was a room with four experts, the youngest of which has worked in nuclear energy and nuclear policy for three years and spent the nine years before that studying it (she got her BS, MS, and PhD in Nuclear Engineering…). So I shouldn’t be surprised that, after less than a year of interest, I don’t know the world as well as these people who have been immersed in it for 10, 20, 40 years. But it was still a bit overwhelming, and I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of me. Anyway, the list:

  • FLOR
  • NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative)
  • NEI
  • PWC
  • CNTAC
  • ASTM – (American standards something or other)
  • RSSC
  • HTGR
  • EFH
  • EIRP
  • BTI
  • ACORE
  • SMR (Small Modular Reactor)
  • PPA
  • EON (the German one)
  • EON (the American one)
  • AP
  • FONP
  • KSA
  • EA (Environmental Analysis?)
  • EPC
  • DND
  • CBNI
  • API

And then, of course, there were a number of acronyms I already knew:

  • NDA
  • NRC
  • UNSCEAR
  • UNCLOS
  • RFP
  • LWR
  • HWR
  • PWR
  • AP1000
  • And a lot more that I didn’t bother to remember because I, well, I knew them.

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of googling to do, a lot of learning to take on, and I’m SO excited. Unfortunately, a lot of what I’ll be doing is technical and much of it will be embargoed for significant periods of time, so I won’t be able to write about it here. But don’t worry, I have other things on my plate moving forward (including eggplant!) so I’m sure there will be plenty to write about. Until next time…

Say Hello to Eggplant Week

I got back to Boston on Saturday, and hit Trader Joe’s Sunday morning with only one limitation: I biked, so I could only buy as much food as I could fit in my backpack. Usually, when I go shopping, I’m thinking about the leftovers I have in the fridge, or the half-opened box of pasta that needs to be finished – I typically adjust my purchases based on what I need to finish. But this time, it was just me, my backpack, and an entire store of possibilities.

We already know how much I love produce. I mean, farmers markets are basically my best friends, right? So being back in Boston, where I’ve got access to better produce than that which was available at the Stop’n’Shop in Upland, NY, where I can cull herbs from my baby herb garden on the porch, where I can go to a farmers market just down the street every Saturday… Let’s just say I’m happy to be home.

But back to TJ’s. They had graffiti eggplant for sale, which I’ve never seen before, but they looked cool, and since they’re smaller than regular eggplant, they seemed small enough to work for just one person. So I bought one.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never really liked eggplant.

But I figured I’d try it out. At a total investment of a whopping $0.79, it seemed like a reasonable risk to take.

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In case it isn’t already painfully obvious, I’m now a fan of eggplant. And, in an attempt to experiment with my new favorite mid/late-summer ingredient, I’m dedicating this week to the eggplant. By which I mean I’ll be incorporating eggplant into every dinner I cook for myself this week, and hopefully I’ll end up with a few awesome ways to prepare and consume the strange purple vegetable. And then, since eggplant season is basically now until mid-October, hopefully I’ll have plenty of dishes to whip up as the school year (and my very last semester of undergrad) gets started.

Tonight’s dinner was Eggplant “Bruschetta,” taken off the smittenkitchen site (my favorite of all cooking blogs, incidentally) and was surprisingly simple and filling. It required slicing and baking the eggplant coated in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were topped with diced tomatoes, onions, cheese, and some mint from my herb garden.

IMG_2290

(Side note: the cheese was Trader Joe’s Farmhouse English Cheddar with Italian Truffles and was very possibly the best cheese I’ve ever had in my life. Just smooth enough without being too creamy; flavorful enough to go with salami yesterday for lunch but not so overwhelming that it drowned out the tomatoes tonight…basically heaven in block form.)

“Fewer is More”

If I have a mini-passion inspired by my life experiences, its that scientists need to learn to communicate more effectively. We learn all these amazing things about the world around us: in just the past week, scientists have made discoveries as large as ancient ice on Pluto and as small as the existence of pentaquarks.

While images of Pluto are breathtaking and inspirational, a significant amount of discussion has been had in recent days regarding how to justify to the public the importance of visiting the outer edges of our solar system. An entire generation of scientists – the generation of scientists who are making these incredible discoveries today – were inspired to be where they are now by the Apollo explorations of yesteryear. And yet, they have no idea how to convince the general public that the next generation of scientists are being created today by the very same thing: inspirational trips to discover the unknown.

For someone like me, who already knows and loves physics, the announcement of the pentaquarks is even cooler. We know protons and neutrons, which combine to form the nucleus of every atom of every element, consist of three quarks. Scientists have discovered two different particles composed of five quarks each, and though we don’t know what they create, we know they contribute to explaining the Standard Model. Beyond that, who knows what this discovery will mean? Perhaps the next generation of scientists, the kids in classrooms who watched the images New Horizons sent home last week, will figure it out for us.

And herein lies the problem: the current generation of scientists doesn’t know how to talk to the next generation of scientists (or their parents). We barely even know how to talk to ourselves. Regardless of what I decide to study when I move to the next phase of my schooling, I’m absolutely not going to be studying anywhere unless they have courses in science communication. I want to learn how to speak to other scientists, especially scientists in other fields, and explain what I’ve learned. But most importantly, I want to be able to speak to non-scientists. Scientists need to be able to speak to non-scientists.

We can’t just assume that science journalists will do our job for us, because the journalists are easily duped by false science (case in point: the chocolate is good for you study) and the reality is that you can only truly explain what you understand. So if a journalist can understand 50% of the significance of a discovery, then the public will, at best, get 50% of its importance. But if scientists could learn to express the significance themselves, then the public has a better chance of understanding the fundamental beauty of whatever has just been added to the body of human knowledge.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just that scientists don’t know what to say, they also don’t know how to say it. The number of times I’ve bitten my tongue to not correct “fewer” or “less” over the past five weeks is innumerable. And its not just to my fellow students; professors, lecturers, and lab techs have all said “less data points support this conclusion than that” or “something has fewer probability.” (Don’t remember which to use? Just remember: your grocery store is probably wrong.)

We have a 1,500 word research report due in a few days, and everyone is stressing because they don’t know how to put their thoughts and understanding down on paper. They’re more worried about the paper than the presentation that will require standing in front of ~20 people, not because they’re comfortable speaking in front of groups, but because they’re terrified of writing a paper.  (For reference, this post in total is 704 words; I wrote it in about 20 minutes.) Now, I’m not saying that I am always grammatically correct, or that I have perfect English. But scientists are the people who have discovered the world, and so many have no way to express it. How many incredible discoveries have been lost to history because the report manuscript was rejected for poor clarity? How many were lost because the research proposal was indecipherable? How much time and energy is wasted because nobody bothered to teach the scientist how to teach the world?

A Typical Day at Nuclear “Camp”

Admittedly, this week is a bit more stressful than the last couple of weeks have been, what with lab report due dates stacking up and a professor who has four days of four hour-long lectures and plans to teach four chapters. But based on the last 18 hours, I thought it might be fun to throw together a daily “schedule” so there isn’t any confusion – this isn’t actually a nuclear summer camp.

6:30am: Wake up. Shower. Eat Breakfast. Pack bag.

7:45am: Leave the dorm. Bike to the classroom (about a 7 min bike ride, so just over a mile, probably). Try to finish reading the chapter you’re about to be taught. (Fail)

8:30am: Lecture starts. (Chapter 11)

12:15pm: Lecture ends. Lunch starts. Homework is assigned. (Due tomorrow, of course.)

12:45pm: Return from eating lunch to work on the homework. (Complete 5 of 7 problems)

2:00pm: Seminar begins.

5:00pm: Seminar ends. Return to dorm.

*Note that approximately 2 days each week, we have a seminar in the afternoon. The remaining 3 afternoons are spent either in lab or touring various facilities on BNL’s campus.

5:30pm: Continue working on lab report. (Started over the weekend, due tomorrow)

6:30pm: Make dinner. Discuss report and associated discussion questions with classmates over dinner.

7:30pm: Return to room. Continue working on lab report.

8:30pm: Finish lab report. Continue research for paper/presentation (due next week).

9:30pm: Stop researching. Return to homework set.

9:55pm: Complete homework. Begin lab prep for tomorrow.

11:00pm: Finish lab prep for tomorrow. Begin reading Chapter 12 (32 pages).

11:45pm: Give up on reading. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Set alarm for 7:00am so chapter 12 can be completed in the morning. (Write blog post…)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be here and I’m ecstatic that I’m learning so much and making connections between previous chemistry classes and my physics classes. I really enjoy the labs because apparently chem lab is just like riding a bike – the techniques might be a bit rusty, but I do in fact remember the basics of pipetting and running a column and even proper acid disposal. But hoooooo boy! is it exhausting. I’ve got two more weeks of using every brain cell in my big head, and then I am taking a well-deserved week off before I go right back to using my brain again. Is this what the real world is like? ‘Cuz if it is, I love it and I hate it at the same time.

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