Old student, new tricks
With a little luck, I’m a year away from graduating. It’s been one hell of a journey and I really hope I hit this goal. Still, I keep thinking what’s next and the truth is the future looks a lot like the present. It’s not just because I’m now working at a research hospital, that helps, but what I mean is that the difference between being a student and being a researcher isn’t all that different. You have to learn new skills.
Life has been busy, between work, more work, school, extra work, writing, and did I mention work? It’s hard to keep track of the days. Honest conversation and I swear this just happened. I was discussing with hospital-PI the plan for the day and I mentioned he had a meeting wednesday and I asked if I should attend. Today is wednesday… which he politely reminded me of. I mean time has no meaning, wednesday is just a construct.
I promise there’s a point here somewhere.
With everything going on, you would think that I wouldn’t have “me” time. Truth is, my “me” time looks a lot like work time, but I really enjoy learning new skills. I like what I do and that whole life/work balance has always been a tough thing to get down exactly. Sometimes I take breaks when I should be working, sometimes I work when I should take a break, and sometimes the things I want to do look a lot like work, even though they really aren’t.
I’ve been a student for a good chunk of my life. Even if we exclude the schooling everyone gets as a child (I can say that now that I’m an old decrepit man stuck in a slightly younger, but still very decrepit body), I’ve still been a student basically all of my adult life. I like learning, there’s so much knowledge in the world and I just want to cram it all into my head, it’s hard sometimes not being able to know all the things I want to learn about.
Thankfully education and frankly research, you’re always learning new things or thinking of new ideas. I enjoy it, you never do the same thing twice (you do it a dozen times, write a paper then do something else… that’s a joke, sort of). When I became a civilian again, I briefly worked in a manufacturing plant. We did the same things day in day out. I liked the consistency, the fact I could isolate myself from everyone (I would go days without talking to people), and the fact that I could work all the overtime I wanted. At 12 hour shifts, I would sometimes work 84 hours a week just so I didn’t have to think about existing.
These days, I still like throwing myself into work, but for different reasons. Research is the ultimate puzzle. We’re trying to piece together something that we don’t understand, it’s a mystery and we’re learning tools and techniques to solve it. Maybe it’s my deep love for Sherlock Holmes novels, but I think it’s fun.
So we have this cross between my love of learning stuff and my love of solving puzzles and that’s research in a nutshell. And that is why sometimes work and relaxing look a lot alike. Over the weekend in my “downtime” I was reading on some new techniques people are using to help research. I’ve found some cool things that I want to try, so I was trying to figure how how to do them.
Most of the things you learn in grad school are (somewhat unfortunately) self taught. That isn’t to say you don’t learn things in classes, but most of the things I do I’ve had to teach myself how to do (writing code for example is a good example of a learn it yourself type thing). So learning a new skill looks a lot like work, but I also do it because I think it’s fun. It will make work life easier for me, but it is also a little fun to show off some super cool new thing.
I’m not sure when I’ll be able to apply the stuff I’ve read up on over the weekend, but I’m excited to try them and I’m assuming that the next paper I write I’ll get the chance to apply at least one of the new techniques I picked up. I’m also going to propose today to one of the people I work with that they do this type of analysis because I think it applies to some of the stuff they do and in our lab we have a unique opportunity to use other methods of data analysis that other labs use in a different way. One day I may explain that better, but not today!
I like the field I’m in now because it’s constantly changing, it’s not even that there are new things coming out, it’s that people find ways to apply old techniques due to technology changes or just having a good idea. Some of the seemingly super fancy stuff I did back for my BRAIN talk (this one) used math equations that were decades old, some of them are older than I am. We just have new ways to use them, which I think is one of the more interesting things about research.
Maybe I’m just weird, but I think it’s fun to learn new techniques.
Oh and speaking of the BRAIN talk, I really need to finish that paper. It’s paper 4 of 4 for me, one of the four that kept piling up on me (even though that paper chronologically comes in as paper 2). I’m sure I’ll have more papers here soon (already working on one actually), but those four were the ones that really had me nervous about my existence as a researcher. But hey, two down, one in review, so things are looking up. Hopefully, I’ll have a more substantial update on the two remaining papers (but specifically the BRAIN talk paper) soon.
The term “work-life balance” has always annoyed me just a little, because … well work is a part of life, isn’t it? Yes, there’s a need to balance it against other things, like relationships and leisure. But the phrase hints that people stop truly “living” while they’re at work, that work is just this ugly thing they do to support their “real” life. And that’s kind of a toxic view of work, if you ask me.
Not that I’m complaining that you used this very standard expression! Just trying to say that I think it’s fine if your work and your personal time get a little mixed up. It’s always nice to see somebody who’s found the intersection of something that the world needs, and something that they genuinely enjoy doing. If your work is part of your “real life” then you are doing well.
I am usually pretty good about leaving my work projects at work, but that’s only so that they don’t interfere with all the other engineering I go and do in my free time. Ha.
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January 26, 2022 at 10:05 am
That’s an excellent point and one I don’t think I articulated very well. I think, at least for people in research/development/etc. that you’re drawn to it because it’s genuinely something you enjoy. If I had an unlimited amount of free time and no need to make money I would still be out there trying to learn new things. The difference is it probably wouldn’t be as focused as it is now that I do this kind of thing for work. Or as hospital-PI reminds me, you don’t go into research for the money. The same could be said for teachers and a whole lot of other fields I’m sure.
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January 27, 2022 at 10:08 am