October 27, 2007

Aha, Here I Am

Every so often, our biology department has a happy hour. It's a chance for the grad students, post docs, and faculty to relax and have a couple of beers together late on Friday afternoon. We don't do it every week; realistically, it happens about once a month.

This week has been a particularly busy one for me. There's been a lot of grading involved; it's my least favorite responsibility. Still, there was an exam and a project, not to mention homeworks, and so I graded nearly 300 short essays alone. Combine that with the sequences I had to work on, the weekly genetics seminar and trying to get my own research done and it winds up feeling like I woke up on Monday morning, blinked three times and it was Friday afternoon. Where'd the week go?

Happy hour came as a welcome break. My advisor was back from a conference overseas and still suffering a bit of jet lag. Conversation was mainly about Halloween (there's a party for grad students at a bar tonight but I'm not going; I have too much work to do this weekend). Toward the end, though, I and two of my fellow smokers stepped outside together.

So there I was in this chilly, darkening New England evening standing outside having a smoke with a German molecular biologist/mycologist and an Argentinian entomologist. We've all got a decent buzz going and we're all a bit unwound. We talked about DNA extraction protocols; my attempt to extract from Tenebrio molitor as a trial run hadn't gone well. We talked about the merits of fieldwork and we talked about Scotch. We even talked about frameworks for statistical analysis, something I've come to be surprised that I can understand these days much better than I'd ever hoped I could just a few short years ago.

I had this moment of "Aha, here I am." It was one of those seemingly crystal-clear moments of realization, although how clear it really was I can't say due to a couple of Killian's Reds consumed shortly before. Still, it was a realization that this is exactly what I'd been working toward all this time, starting with a return to school in 2002 and leading up to that very spot, standing there talking about ways to get nucleic acids cleanly from preserved Coleoptera and how to get accurate-as-possible branch lengths on phenograms.

As those who are or have been in graduate school will probably agree, moments of contentment are few and far between. That much I've already learned. Nonetheless, this was one of those moments for me and so worth noting if only so that I can come back here to look it up and remind myself that they're possible when I next have a crazed week like this last one. It's also worth noting that I learn more practical things standing around smoking and drinking with colleagues than I do sitting through seminars or reading published articles. I should quite smoking, no doubt, but I fear that my education would suffer.

Later today, while I'm working on a presentation that I'm due to give this coming Friday, I'll glance back at this entry. It will help me to keep in mind that, despite all the bullshit that must be undergone along the way, this is exactly where I belong and that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.

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