When I was a kid, people often told me that the best possible job is the one where I get paid to do what I want to do. And not so long ago, I wrote about how exciting it was that what I do at work, what I do for school, and what I do in my free time seem to be aligned and are sometimes so similar they’re basically identical. I stand by that post – it is exciting. But there’s a slight problem with it too.
I don’t know what else I do.
I go to work and research nuclear policy. I set up to work on my independent study and research nuclear regulation. In my “off-time,” I’ve been doing a lot of research into graduate programs in nuclear engineering and nuclear chemistry with allowances for policy courses or sub-programs emphasizing governance and public communication. Before I go to bed, the book I read is an overview of the French nuclear program.
I was inspired to write this post when a friend came over, saw me at my computer, and assumed I was working. When I told him I wasn’t working, and explained what I was doing, he jokingly replied “Even when you’re not working, you’re working!” And he’s not wrong.
While I enjoy all of this – the research, the writing, the potential of what I’m currently working on may become, and the possibilities of what I’ll work on next, I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should spend some of my time reading about, thinking about, or doing something – anything – else.
Recently, I’ve been obsessively thinking about Switzerland, where employees commonly take an hour or more for lunch to relax and have flexible work schedules. I’ve placed that system of flexibility on a pedestal in my head, which is so fascinating to me because I could do that. I make my own schedule literally. every. day. If I wanted to take an hour for lunch, I could. I can. Sometimes, I do. I can make the choice to work only four days a week or work seven mornings and have the afternoons totally free. I don’t, but I could. And realizing that has made me wonder, and then realize, what it is about the Swiss system that is so appealing to me: if people take that time off work, that means they’re doing something else.
I’m not doing something else.
It’s high time I found something else to do. Something that I can focus on when I’m not working on my work, or my project, or my grad school research. A new passion, so to speak, that can occupy my non-nuclear hours. I’m open to suggestions.
When I don’t have a routine, I forget how much I love them. When I’m not busy, I forget how much I love being busy. I forget how much I love rushing from one thing to the next and making it just on time; I forget how much those moments of rapidity remind me to slow down when I’ve got plenty of time. I forget how nice it is to see a broad swath of people, how much I enjoy learning about their lives – even (and especially) the day-to-day realities.
Yesterday was the first day of school. Technically, I suppose, the last first day of school (for the foreseeable future…but we all know I’ll be back at school someday). I had places to be, people to see, and things to do.
I left the house at 9am and didn’t get home until after 9pm. But when I got home, friends came over for berries and cream and a mini-homework session (or, in my case, a work-work session) that lasted until after midnight.
I got home late because I went to a tap class at a local studio (about a mile from my house). It’s been so long since I tapped like that! I mean, yeah, I’ve been tapping with Tufts tap ensemble, but this was *real.* This was challenging choreography for my feet and my brain. There were complex tap steps I haven’t done since I was a young teenager. Half the class was mentally challenging because we were dancing in 7-time (normal dances are in sets of 4 or 8 counts, and as you get more advanced you get used to 3 or 6 counts; but this was in sets of 7…) And I re-met random people I’ve seen at random, unrelated events around Boston.
I’m currently re-reading parts of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, because I wanted to remember his three types of people. One of his big points is that while we tend to value our close ties the most (e.g. our best friends, our family), the most influential people we know in terms of jobs, opportunities, and new experiences are our acquaintances. I’ve always felt like I am in the most solid place if/when I’m meeting and spending time with a wide variety of new people, so I’m very excited for this new group of tappers (a class of about 10 people of all ages – from my age up to probably 45/50).
Before tap, I had (yet another) physical therapy appointment. I haven’t really talked about them here, but I’ve been going to PT for my back/neck/head for a few weeks now. And yesterday, in addition to Marisa (my PT) telling me I’m getting stronger in the muscles I’ve neglected for years (forever?), I could feel it. There were exercises we tried a week or two ago that I absolutely could not do that were not easy, but definitely doable.
I attended part of Fletcher’s “shopping day” yesterday, where I learned about a class I might try to audit (Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy), although the definition of clean energy for this class sadly doesn’t include nuclear. But it is probably a good idea to learn what I can about the domestic and international policy tendencies in the clean energy realm, so I might take it regardless.
I got surprising amounts of work done yesterday and this morning – I’m relearning the “one hour at a time” art I had mastered in middle school. I’m prepped for today’s meeting about my independent study, I’m ready to lead the class I’m the teaching assistant for this afternoon, because the professor is out of town at a conference. I’m about to sit down to my first Czech lesson since I came home from Prague, and I sent my host family an email last night. (It is so nice to still be in contact with them!)
All in all, the semester is starting and I’m so ready. I’ve got a weekly calendar set up, regular meetings, appointments, and classes scheduled. I’ve got friends to see and work to do and my very last semester (foe as it may feel) to take full advantage of!
Until next time…
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. 😉
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.
It’s been a long five days. I went backpacking with my not-so-little-anymore brother, made him hike 25+ miles in 2.5 days and I think he might want to kill me now. Pictures to come when my dad gets around to sending them to me.
Following those three days, I packed my life up (again) and flew across the country (again) to what my housemate/best friend/also-just-acquired-an-official-government-badge-Amelia calls “nuclear camp.” Aka six weeks, twelve undergrads, five professors, one national laboratory, and a lot of equations. Thus far, we’ve been given a nuclear chemistry textbook written by a Nobel Prize-winning chemist (he discovered ten elements, but that’s not what the Nobel was for), biked around Brookhaven National Lab’s campus, found the pool, and covered in under three hours what my Physics professor took a month and two homework assignments to teach last fall. (The semi-empirical mass formula, if anyone’s curious.)
The people here are really great, and it has been fun to nerd out about chemistry. Eleven of the twelve are majoring in Chemistry (Guess who’s the odd man out? You’re right! Me!) and every single one of us has a periodic table poster. Two brought theirs with them, three people have already worn chemistry-based shirts, everyone laughed about my Avogadro’s Number shirt, and one girl has a blanket with the periodic table on it. We all have similar tastes in books – sci-fi is an unsurprisingly popular genre, but so are the classics and eclectic books like When It’s a Jar and House of Leaves. A good number of us like watching sports, so I’ll have plenty of people to watch soccer with over the next 6 weeks, and we’ve all got distinctly different backgrounds, so we’ll have lots of cool discussions about all sorts of things over the next six weeks. It’s not unlike freshman year orientation all over again.
I passed my Rad Worker I test, which means I now know the difference between Radiation and High Radiation Areas (between 5 and 100 mrem/hr and >100 mrem/hr of radiation exposure) and I’m allowed to enter both types of area unescorted. Who knows how long the training lasts, but for now at least my friends can say they’re CPR-certified and I can say I’m certified by the US government to handle radioactive materials. Tomorrow we have a Benchtop Dispersibles class, which means… well… none of us know what that means. Check in again in fifteen hours; we’ll have updates.
In other news, we get to meet five different nuclear and radiochemistry professors from around the country, will be touring a nuclear power plant in a couple weeks, and generally expect to stuff our brains with lots of science. Then I’ll be back in Boston for a month before I start my very last semester (my very last class, really) of undergrad. Then I might post pictures from graduation here on this blog. But probably not, let’s be real.
It is almost 2:00am, I am sitting in the second library of the night (the first one closed, technically this one is closed too, but there are loopholes…), and I’m working diligently (well, minus this break to write this post) on a 15 page paper due tomorrow. Due today. Due in ten hours.
Technically, its just a rough draft. So it doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, it doesn’t need to be fully formed, it doesn’t even need to be a full 15 pages.
Thus far, I’ve written two of my three case studies, and haven’t even started my introduction or conclusion. I’ll probably leave my conclusion for the final draft, but if I don’t write an introduction, then I’ll need to write a literature review for the rough draft.
So I’ve basically got half the paper I intend to turn in tomorrow written. (Since yesterday, I might add.)
I’ve written 15 pages.
Technically, I’m done. Technically, I should be cutting what I’ve written thus far down, to make space for the aforementioned and as-yet unwritten intro/conclusion. Technically, my professor said 15 pages minimum.
When I was in middle school, we didn’t get normal grades. Instead of an A,B,C,D,F scale, we had AS, MS, BS: Above Standards, Meeting Standards, and Below Standards. Now, the teachers may or may not have explicitly mentioned this, but the standards were individual standards. Different students were held to different standards in different subjects; if you were strong in one subject but struggled in another, the school wanted to reward effort, not just knowledge.
It seems a bit intense, and certainly took a bit to get used to, but it truly was (and is) a great system. As a student, you learn to push yourself. You learn what truly great work looks like for you. You learn to have high expectations for yourself. You learn to meet, and even exceed them. After all, what is “Above Standards” other than doing better than anyone thought you could do?
15 pages. I’m not that proud of them. I can tell I wrote them in a day. I know that my writing is more cohesive than many of my classmates, that my thoughts are more nuanced, that my citations more thorough. But I’m not impressed. And, most importantly, I know that my professor has standards. Like anyone.
Teachers theoretically grade us all to the same standard, but we all know that isn’t *actually* true. Students joke that being a teacher’s pet makes life easier – he already likes you, so you don’t have to try as hard and he’ll likely grade you highly. But sometimes, a professor has a sliding scale of standards. Sometimes, she sees what you’re capable of, and pushes you to reach that edge. Combine that with the internalized desire to be better than I can be, (yes I realize the impossibility inherent in that statement) and all of a sudden it is 2:03 in the morning and you’re halfway through a rough draft of a paper that has already met the length expectation. Ooops.
See you tomorrow. Or is it today?
Although my recent radio silence would indicate otherwise, I am alive and kicking. Specifically, fighting maniacally at the stresses and pressures that being a Senior implies. I spent the first two weeks of school in a rapid rotation between classes, homework, the shower, and my bed, with a little time in the kitchen to cook, eat, and clean up meals. Basically, my life was do work, finish just in time to go to class, go to class, come home, cook, eat, clean up, do homework, shower, sleep, do work, go to class… You get the picture.
By Tuesday of Week 2, I was up doing work until 3 in the morning, and I decided things needed to change. My advisor told me last year that Senior year needed to be as much about your transition into the real world (hence living off campus and having a job (ish?) as it is about the actual work. Then the Career Center had this wonderful event in which they basically informed us that the job hunt for post-graduation is essentially your fifth class. But I was already taking 5.5 classes…
Now I’m not.
My life is still crazy busy, but now I’ve got time for things I want to do but otherwise wouldn’t be able to. My weeks are still front-loaded; my chemistry class’ problem sets are due every Monday and my physics class’ problem sets are due every Tuesday, and then there’s the small detail of my literature class that meets once a week on Mondays that assigns anywhere from 150-300 pages (so far). I’ve still got lots of homework to work on all week long, but now I also have time for things like reading the newspaper and baking cookies and all the other things one needs to do to remain sane without feeling bad that I’m not working on my homework.
Don’t get me wrong – the decision to drop Japanese was a hard one for me to make. It took me almost a week after I told my teacher I was dropping to actually log into our course system and formally drop it. But I also know that it was the right decision to make. I don’t have time for the ~12 hours of homework it was taking in addition to the 5 hours in class. I don’t have the mental capacity to struggle through a class and feel like I’m not learning anything tangible for my struggle.
Because that’s what Japanese felt like for me. Even in my sophomore year, I felt like I was learning vocab and grammar and facts, remembering them for the test, and then letting them go. Which is exactly how most classes work (although I keep very very strange facts in the back of my head and retrieve them at the most inopportune moments…), but languages are supposed to grow on themselves, like math. The next topic you learn should make more sense as a result of the things you’ve just finished learning; if you’ve forgotten all of that, then you just end up falling further and further behind.
Add to that a year of studying a different language, and you’ve got my situation. I was in a class that I absolutely wanted to be taking, where I could be learning a language that I absolutely want to be learning, but I lost my foundation. And without the foundation, the class was just a forum for frustration, not for furthering my language skills.
For that reason, I’ve decided to go at it on my own. Instead of spending the almost 20 hours a week doing classwork for Japanese, I’ve decided to spend ~5 hours a week maintaining my Japanese, and ~5 hours a week maintaining my Czech. I need to figure out exactly what I want to get out of my language studies going forward, and I’m still working on what that will look like, but hopefully it will include a bit of writing, a bit of reading, and a bit of listening and speaking in both languages.
I dropped Japanese about a week ago and I am more well-rested, less stressed, and more fun. I have time and energy to think about and actually write blog posts again. (Yay!) I auditioned for and made the tap team, and our first rehearsal is tonight. (Yay!) I have time for things like going apple picking, making applesauce and baking apple pie. By the way, its apple season. That post is coming up next!