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. 😉
I *finally* had my appointment with the headache specialist this morning, and on the one hand, it was nice to have someone in the medical profession listen to me talk about my headaches. On the other, she didn’t really tell me anything new.
I officially have Chronic (Daily) Tension Type Headaches, compounded with Anticipatory Anxiety. I also have Rare Occurrence Migraines, which are (apparently/as of now) unrelated.
I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me that … I’ve known I fulfilled the definition of “chronic headaches” for months, and anyone I know can tell you that my headaches are tension-type. But I did learn some things. For one, my headaches are typical of “rebound headaches,” which commonly occur when people with migraines are taken off their medications. Which is interesting, since I make a point to not take medication. (I’ve taken meds exactly twice in the last year – April of 2014 and last week, both for migraines (not headaches)) Additionally, all the time I spent trying to isolate sources of my headaches over the years (reducing consumption of caffeine, gluten, alcohol, etc, etc) was pointless, since chances are high that none of my headaches have these type of triggers. Finally, my doctor didn’t find it surprising that I experience fewer/less intense headaches when I’m in new or exceptionally stimulating situations; to at least some extent my headaches are a result of focusing on them. When I have something else to focus on, my headaches tend to fade. (On the other hand, when I have really bad headaches that can’t be ignored, they take more cognitive resources to hide, so it makes sense that I have a harder time preventing them from affecting me when I’m involved in something mentally taxing and my headache is already at some high baseline.) Again, most of this was just validation of conclusions I’ve already come to.
All in all, it was nice to have professional medical reassurances that the conclusions I’ve come to over the past few years are accurate. She also gave me two prescriptions: one that should hopefully help with both the low-level headaches and the accompanying anxiety that I’ll take for two weeks and then check in, and a second to be taken when a migraine starts that will probably last me for years.
She also recommended I start a biofeedback program, which seems to me like a lot of psycho-baloney. But then, I’ve recently taken to meditating when my headaches are particularly bad because, though it doesn’t change anything after the fact, my headache intensity for at least those five minutes is significantly decreased. Perhaps biofeedback is then a way to bring the techniques of meditation into my daily life and decrease the intensity of my headaches on a daily basis. For now, though, I’ve added some psychology readings about biofeedback to my list, which is currently dominated by nuclear engineering and science medialization research…
Day 2 at Forum has come and gone and, with it, my first week. Unfortunately, I only get to intern at Forum two days a week. (I’m still going to try to convince them I’m useful enough and interested enough to work more than two days a week, but I’m also absolutely taking the two days I currently have and getting as much as I possibly can out of them for now.)
I met another intern – Leslie – who happens to live about 5 miles away from me, so we’re already planning on carpooling every Tuesday from here on out. Once I arrived at 8, we printed out the focus and host sheets, got everything ready for the morning’s show, and had it all set up by 8:20. Yes, we referenced the guidelines for interns and asked each other questions, but with the exception of one question to our friendly outgoing intern, we managed to get it all done ourselves.
I was responsible for the 9 am hour, which was about the new EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions in existing power plants. That was exciting, because I worked a lot on preparing for it yesterday with Tina, so I enjoyed being responsible for the in-studio guest, for bringing the comments into the studio, and for bringing Dan the coffee he left on his desk. Interns will be interns, I suppose…
Obviously, this is not actually representative of what I do. In reality, Leslie and I spent pretty much the entire hour from 9 to 10 reading emails/web posts/facebook posts/tweets about as fast as we could, printing them out, and organizing them to bring them into the studio to Dan and then to Michael, just like yesterday.
I then spent almost two hours (from 10 to after 12, with a break in the middle) typing the titles and authors of the recommended books from today’s 10 am program into a very large spreadsheet, and then finding URLs for each one. But all the work seems like it was worth it; my hard work is now available on our Summer Reading List page...
We interns then got to sit in on the post-show meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. The producers spoke with Michael about what went well, which hour was better (and thus will be repeated from 10-11 pm), and what would make a good hour better in the future. I was able to give a suggestion or two of my own, which the producers seemed to like, so I hope that’s good!
After taking a lunch, I worked on some research for Thursday’s show, helped organize the research someone else already did for tomorrow’s 10 am hour with SF poet laureate Alejandro Murguia. Then – because a day isn’t complete for me unless it is FILLED with books – I went through the advance copies of books Dan has received from publishers to see if there were any possibilities for Forum shows. I found a few, wrote up some ideas, and hopefully will get to start real research on them next week sometime. I’m also hoping I’ll be able to convince them to let me bring a book home on Monday to return on Tuesday; if I read them, I might be able to write some upcoming book reviews for books that have only just been published!
Technically, I’m interning at Forum this summer as a “class,” since I’m required to get credit for it. It doesn’t matter much, except that I have certain assignments I need to do. Next week, I’ll be asking some questions of the producers regarding goals and objectives from both my and their points of view, to make sure we’re all on the same page. Future assignments include interviewing important people at the organization – stay tuned, since I’ll be aiming to at least interview Michael Krasny, and maybe some other big NPR/KQED names. And maybe some smaller ones, too.
For now, though, I’m just happy that I had an almost-real conversation with him today (about the intended audience of two kids books mentioned on the show today) and I shook his hand and actually introduced myself. We’re going places, kids!
Aaaaannndd… more books. This represents about 1/3 to 1/2 of the books around Michael Krasny’s desk, and maybe 1/10 (1/15? Estimating is hard when books are horizontal, vertical, on shelves, in boxes, in piles, on the floor, literally everywhere…) of the books that can be found in the Forum workspace. No word yet on how many of them are actually read, but I did get told that Michael reads every book he talks about with the author on air. (So a lot.)
I keep everything. Okay, not literally everything, but a lot of stuff. I still have all my readers from previous classes on my iPad, I still have my notes from previous classes on my computer. And I still use them.
I will admit to not taking notes in all of my classes. But the notes I do take are because I think they’re actually useful. And this semester, more than any semester previously, I’m actually using those notes. Not to study for the upcoming exam, but to make connections. A few weeks ago, when we had to pick our paper topics for my econ class, I decided to write about the differences between the 1997 and 2008 economic collapses in East Asia. I knew it would be interesting, but I didn’t really know where to go to start researching. So I sent my dad an email, asking him to dig through my box of stuff from Tufts. To find one specific notebook from one specific class. To look at a handful of lectures that I knew touched on the 1997 crisis or its aftermath. I knew which lectures he should look at because I still have the syllabus from that class on my computer. And now, with those notes, I know what to research.
Today, I started working on a paper about media, borders, and nationalism. I knew I needed to start with some definitions: nations vs states vs nation-states, etc. I could give those definitions myself no problem, because of my political science classes, but definitions are always better with a legitimate source. So I went to my recitation notes, found the reading in which we defined them, went to the reader, found my quotes.
I find it interesting that so many people rely so much on the internet these days for sources like this. I’m not denying the fact that I use the internet. Most of my sources for all these papers are from the internet. Part of that is because its way easier to find sources in English on the online journals that Tufts has access to than to search the Czech libraries for relevant texts in English. Part of it is because I’m lazy. But for the first time in my life, a lot of my sources are from previous courses.
My first instinct would be to say that this is because I’m taking classes now that are similar to previous classes I’ve taken. Because I’m finding a focus in my coursework that is letting me become more specialized. But I don’t think that’s really true.
My econ sources came from a political science class about Japan, and I’m using them for a course about Macroeconomics and the 2008 crisis. My media and borders source is for a class all about propaganda – a class I took because I found a previous class about propaganda in Nazi Germany interesting. But the source is from my Intro to Comparative Politics course last spring.
I think it is more realistic to say that my liberal arts education is working. A lot of people are asking in this day and age of ever-increasing college tuitions what college is really good for. I heard a podcast just the other day in which a college professor admitted that 95% of his students don’t remember anything (literally nothing, he said) from his class. But college clearly teaches us something – I think it teaches us how to make connections. Or at least, that is what I think college is teaching me. It is teaching me to take note of what is important. And, perhaps even more significantly, college is teaching me to take note of how to access what is important. It is teaching me to make the connections between media studies and political science, between political science and economics; to understand the differences in analysis methodology between political science, economics, chemistry, and physics. It is teaching me to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. And it is teaching me to never, ever, ever throw anything away.