Friday, June 10, 2016

Blessed are the curious

"Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures." - Lovelle Drachman

It's Friday at 5, and the laboratory is quiet. I'm alone in my building, and the only sounds I hear are the ticking clock and the clack of my own typing fingers. I take a deep breath, hold it in for a second, let it out. It's been a long week.

A sampling of the organisms I took to preschool
It started with my committee meeting on Monday, when my supervisors decided I could defend my thesis. Monday was a banner day, but since then, I've barely had a chance to sit down. I got some important paperwork filed with the University for my upcoming thesis defense. I received manuscript drafts with comments back from several co-authors, so I can begin revising each chapter and compiling my dissertation. I took some invertebrates into a preschool class for an outreach event, and I lead a boat trip for a community education course visiting OIMB. There's been a major event each day of the week.

Now that my thesis defense has been scheduled sooner than I expected, I can tell the next month will be nuts. I'll be reading and revising and writing and just trying to get my ducks in a row. I'm so excited to defend my thesis and see everything I've worked for come together, but it's going to be a lot of work to get there.

You know, I remember talking with one of my advisor/collaborators, Paul, last fall while working in the lab on the Helmer Hanssen.  As we were sorting benthic invertebrates on a table in the lab, he asked me why I had gone into research. It’s a completely legitimate question, one that I should be always prepared to answer, but it actually caught me off-guard. I mean, I've been asked plenty of times why I went into marine biology, to the point that I have a standard answer ready to go. I tell people that didn't choose marine biology; it chose me. I was born with a love for the ocean that I really can’t explain, and exploring it is the best way I can think to spend my life.
Behold, my thesis chapters! The one on the right is already
published, but the other four need to be revised.

But I realized this answer doesn’t explain why I chose research instead of some other job that deals with marine biology. After college, I could have chosen to be an aquarist or a science journalist or even a high-school science teacher. I could have easily taken a job in public outreach at a museum or an aquarium. But I didn't. I chose grad school. I chose the hardest job around. I chose research. 

When Paul posed me that question, a really strange thing happened. I just started talking without even knowing what I wanted to say. My mouth formed the words, but I heard myself speak as if listening to someone else. I heard myself explaining ideas that I had never consciously thought before.

I told Paul that I love to learn. And I told him that research is the highest form of learning. In the same way that the best dancers become choreographers and the best musicians become composers, the best learners become scientists, I explained. I love to learn, I told him, and I want to spend my life learning things that have never been learned before.

Once you've been bitten by the curiosity bug, everything else starts to matter a little less. You do crazy things, all for the sake of your science. All to learn new things. You live in gray, rainy port towns where the sun never shines but the biodiversity is awesome. You get up at ridiculous hours of the morning to catch the low tide. You put up with seasickness and exhaustion and jet-lag on a cruise. You move expensive equipment across the world and worry until it arrives safely. You endure long hours and weird shifts and the constant need for sleep. And yes, you stay late on a Friday night to revise and assemble your thesis. 

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