Sunday, August 4, 2013

Moving up and moving on

Summer always seems to be a time of flux, and this one in particular is no exception. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a going away party for the lab coordinator at Eastern and his girlfriend who have since moved out west. Even though I wasn't super close to these people, I still had to fight back tears on my drive home that night. I walked into the house feeling rather empty and sad - enough so that even Chris noticed and asked me what was wrong and why I looked so sad. I think I snapped back something like, "everyone is leaving; how am I supposed to feel?!" Now, not everyone I know is leaving - that was an obvious exaggeration of the facts. However, when people that you've come to know over the course of several years start pulling up stakes and moving on with their lives, it can really shake your perception of things. On Friday, I went to yet another going away party. This time, for one of my close friends who is moving out to Colorado for her PhD. I am incredibly happy for her, but equally (and probably selfishly) sad for myself that she is going so far away.

Change is hard, no matter how good or bad the circumstances surrounding it. Other changes that are happening around me are somewhat less emotionally charged, but are still hitting me harder than I expected. Another PhD friend is moving to Brighton to be with her boyfriend. The tech in our lab, whom I've really come to like, is transitioning out of the lab and into what will be a great job for her at the Corner. The other two grad students in my lab hope to graduate by April of next year, leaving me as my PI's lone grad student, albeit with an undergrad minion. Funding is never a sure thing, and we might be out of money by March if another grant doesn't come through. This situation is putting more pressure on me to write an F31 pre-doctoral fellowship grant. The next feasible due date is in October. With so few applicants being funded, the proposition of applying terrifies me.

With all of this swirling around my head, it's hard to keep my eyes on the prize. The whole point of getting a PhD is to have more job opportunities available to me. So, what do I want to do once I become "Dr. Mitchell" (or "Dr. Visel" if I'm in evil scientist mode) and complete a post-doc? I don't know. Sometimes I think I want to teach, but teaching is scary because other people are there. And they're looking at me and expecting me to teach them new things and be this professor that they put up on a pedestal. Is that something I can do for the rest of my career? I don't know. If not that, then what? I don't think I want to be a PI at an R1 research institution. There's no time to do any bench work anymore, because you're constantly begging for money to keep the lab running and to pay for grad students, techs, and post-docs. I think I'd sooner slit my wrists than commit to doing that for the rest of my career. So, what other jobs are available to a woman who is fast approaching middle age and who is over-educated and probably under-motivated? Pot farmer? No, my brother has that covered. Goat herder? Goats are my favorite ruminant, but that won't get me far. Scientific writer? Hmm, maybe, but it might be too similar to writing your life away searching for grant funding. Plain old writer of fiction and non-fiction? My dad had one hell of a story that I could spin into an amazing tale, but it won't be enough to pay the bills, I'm afraid. Professional genealogist? As long as I'm looking for white people, how hard could that be? I don't know how one becomes a professional though. My dad's side of the family has been a black hole ever since I started looking probably 20 years ago, so maybe this job's not for me. Industry?? I need to look into this.

Every Sunday, I dredge up all of the fears and uncertainties about what I'm doing with my life. On Sundays, life seems pointless to me. I feel like I'm not making a difference to anyone and I feel like a total failure. All this means is that I really don't want to go to work in the morning. Tomorrow starts my obligatory week of teaching for the IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development) program, which has funded me for the past two years. During this last part of their summer program, I will be teaching incoming freshman minority students, most of whom want to be "real" doctors (MDs - it's almost cute), a little bit of the biology they will encounter during their first year of college. During last month's orientation, the students came with their parents. They all had a deer-in-headlights look on their faces. I thought to myself that it must be nice to have parents that wanted to come to an orientation with them. I remember at 19 going alone to orientation at Michigan State, and being surrounded by student-parent dyads and triads. That sucked, but I digress.

On Sundays, a large part of me wants to be back in the car with my major professor headed to a conference. We made fun of car names, sports venue names, and just had a good time. We got along famously and I miss that. I mean, we still get along well and he's become a good friend of mine, but I miss that time in my life. The past is the past though, and none of us can have it back. All I can do now is put my head down, get ready for tomorrow, and keep moving on.