There is something deeply, deeply satisfying about sitting in the middle of the Scottish Highlands at the foot of a tree; your back pressed into the curve of the bough as you shelter from the passing evening showers, thoroughly engrossed in “A Walk In The Woods”.
In the three days I was out on that DoE Expedition I not only started and finished the Bill Bryson, but I burned through Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods“, too. I know I’m a fast reader, but I absolutely devoured those two books with the relentless hunger of one who hasn’t had the time to read for pleasure in over 12 months.
Although I’ve encountered numerous people over the years who couch their Chemistry Grad School experiences to me in terms remarkably akin to PTSD…one year in and the PhD still hasn’t beaten the enthusiasm for knowledge out of me.
I’m becoming more and more convinced that the key to success in grad school is perseverance. Intelligence, dedication and stamina are all really helpful…but the most important make-or-break trait is how well you stick at something. I’m at a point in my research project where I really need to persevere: I don’t mean “persevere” in the sense of “repetition until it works”, but that I have to keep up the same momentum of new ideas, different approaches and diligent analysis, tackling the problem from every single new angle until I crack it. Sounds like it takes a lot of mental finesse, right?
No guarantees. At the end of the day, it might just be that the fundamental science is stacked against me.
There has to be a reason why I keep on returning to the DoE Expeditions. I began to help out on them in 2006…I’ve now been helping out on the school’s expeditions longer than I was even in school. It satisfies me, I think. Going out into the Scottish Highlands satisfies me on a lot of levels.
I love to sit in air-conditioned Starbucks during the summer, drinking strawberries & cream frappuccinos and watching the street scenes. That was a habit I picked up in the States. That doesn’t diminish the fact that the Scottish part of me wants to get out into the remote wilderness to camp. You can tell by my reading material – two sizeable books that I lugged along on my back – that the American psyche fascinates me. I’m living in a new country where I can do more, buy more, be more. I have disposable income for the first time in ages – I went to a farmer’s market to buy vegetables just this week – I don’t have to worry about not being able to afford things!
And yet Americans sometimes frustrate me. They don’t seem to realise how privileged they are, how self-entitled they seem to outsiders. I think that 98% of then time I get along great with Americans…but now and then an encounter will happen that makes me wrinkle my nose and think “…Oh man. DID I REALLY JUST HEAR THAT?! Gosh.” I know we share a common native language, and I look remarkably similar to an American…but I’m still a foreigner. And I think that the fact I “pass” for a native makes me feel even more foreign, at times. America is the melting point, so I adapt, code-switch when talking to my parents, and hold on to the parts that make me Scottish.
On the whole I feel that I am doing well in the USA. It is the sustained adaptability, perseverance and ability to shake off grad school (albeit only now and then) that is keeping me afloat. I hope that it continues.