Monday, 28 October 2013

Hello World!

This is my first post in what I hope will be a well-kept weblog, focusing on the discoveries in my daily life. As my first blog, I don't know what to expect from myself, but I'm excited to try the experience out.

I'm told that the key to a successful blog is to identify a target audience and a topic of interest. Once those are established, keep a consistent subject and tone, update frequently, and try to provide readers (as often as possible) with links to other material - whether it's sources of information for my articles, or points of interest outside my own topics. I've tried to do that, and I've given it a lot of thought over the last few weeks.

My interests are broad and varied, but I've always been an avid reader. Science and history are probably the biggest topics in my life, but I find myself getting into all kinds of new finds. So, this blog is intended to be about just that - my "Explorations and Observations" in my life. I'm going to try very hard to keep it focused around science topics - things I follow out of personal and professional curiosity. Having said that, I can't say that I won't drift from time to time... but I'd like to avoid an intense, personal monologue. Interesting though my story may be, it's not what I'm here to share.

Having said that, something I've come to realize recently is that my own life history has come to shape who I am, and what I'm interested in. I'd like to share some of that in this initial blog post. That may give you some context about who's on the other end of this thing, and why I write the way I do. After I take a few minutes to get this out of the way, we'll both be better off, and I'll try real hard not to extensively revisit it.

So, who am I? At 21 years old, I just graduated with my B.Sc.H., with a double major in Environmental Science and Biology. I immediately jumped feet first into a Master's program in Biology, but it didn't take me long to realize that I was in over my head. The reasons for that are many, one being that I didn't take a break between them - it was a seamless transition from one thesis to another. Some of the conditions of my workplace and personal life contributed, too. The biggest thing, however, was that my heart wasn't in it - my choice of major was based on wanting to work outdoors, with people and wildlife, making decisions that mattered to me. Instead, I found myself cooped up alone in a lab, answering questions about molecular biology that I didn't want to work on. I tip my hat for anyone who enjoys molecular biology - for me, it satisfied nothing in my soul, and the cost of the experiments made me very uncomfortable.

Like many university graduates, I was coming to terms with a new stage of life, and for me, there was a lot of change; friends moving around the world, my girlfriend of four years moving halfway across the country (and Canada's a big country) to start her own graduate degree, a new apartment (and a legal battle with my landlords over our damage deposit from the previous one - which, I add with some pride, was recently resolved with no guilt on our part, and a notice to them that they were conducting illegal activities with regards to our lease), my grandfather had recently been diagnosed with leukemia (which, for the record, he is still fighting - almost a year since his diagnosis, he is soldiering on and making us so proud), and to top it all off, resounding opinions from the media that I, as a 20-something university graduate, was doomed to saddle the difficulties of environmental crisis, economic despair, and social degradation, all the while with no prospects of a job and the likelihood that I would eventually die poor, if the fumes from industry didn't get me first.

So I had some anxiety. That grew into situational depression. I stopped sleeping, I stopped eating, I lost 20lbs over the summer. I was nervous, pale, and emotional. All joy had drained out of my life. I was putting in 60-70hr weeks at work and seeing no progress, which caused me to slip even further into the hole I was digging myself. It all eventually culminated in a nervous breakdown during a field trip in late September. After a lot of desperate, tearful phone calls to loved ones, I was calmed down enough to come back to the lab, and even believe that everything would be better when I did. Instead, I found that just stepping into the building brought a flood of negative emotions back, and I felt sick. Finally, with support from my family and my girlfriend, I took the step to tell my supervisor that I couldn't do it any more.

He was in Portugal at the time, four weeks into a six-week research trip. I expected him to be angry with me. He wasn't. It was a personal decision, he said, and we would make it work. I was willing to finish the project I was working on currently, and he appreciated that. I was five months in. We agreed I'd stay another three to see the project out, and then say my goodbyes. I deeply regret that I allowed myself to reach this point - if I had been honest with myself, I would have known long ago that this wasn't going to work for me. I was too tired and worn-out from my Honours work to jump right in. And I was going through far too much personal difficulty to think I could just grind on...

I deeply respect and admire my supervisor - I first worked for him in the summer after my second year of my undergrad, when he hired me on without a lot of the courses or experience that would have helped me. He took it on faith that I could adjust to the work. I loved it in the lab that summer, and came back for another. I will always look up to him as an amazing researcher and mentor. But the truth of the situation is, I will need something more out of my graduate work than isolation and benchtop work (and I will go back for one, when I find the right time). Since being out from under the pressure of the graduate work, I've begun to recover my health, sanity, and sense of self. I hope that can continue.

So what does my future hold? I'm spending time, aside from my "day job" wrapping up this research work, trying to find what excites me, what I'm passionate about. I'm throwing myself at life wholeheartedly, trying to suck up as much of it as I can - learning, as I do so, that while I may not have been prepared by university to make a lot of life choices, I did develop an awful lot of knowledge, and a great skill set. I love reading, writing, and teaching. I love working with people, especially kids - something I used to do in my job as a swimming instructor, but haven't really been involved with since. I'm trying out a thousand different things, hoping that something will work for me, but if it doesn't, at least I tried a thousand things. I'd love to eventually move out to be with my girlfriend - the love of my life and the sun in my sky. Someday I want to continue my education, but a very prominent researcher (I'll just call him by his first name, David) I met not long ago told me his opinion, saying "My graduate studies were my happiest times... I felt liberated by the freedom to spend as long as I wanted studying things that interest me every day... once I got out into the real world and had to do anything else, it seemed like a chore." I really hope that I can one day find something that makes me feel like David did, and get to work learning everything I can about it.

So, that's where this blog came from. I've been wondering about science writing for a long time. As a kid, I wanted to be a journalist for National Geographic. I've come to realise that they're a pretty competitive spot to work, and maybe that's not what I'm looking for just yet - but I still cherish a dream of publishing with them at least once in my life. Now that I find myself with some time, and a desire to try out some of the things I've always wondered about, I'm going to give it a shot. I hope I can share the adventure with you, and who knows what will happen.

As my readers, I appreciate any feedback from you - comments, questions, arguments, shares - whatever you feel a need to do, do it! Keep your eyes open and your chin up, and keep reading!

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