Reflecting on a Decade

Decided to take the weekend off from pretty much everything, and when I return to the data lab, I’ll be in deep with my dissertation.

It occurred to me earlier this month that I took my first research position June 2006. My then-mentor had high standards and held undergrads to grad-student expectations. It was very sink-or-swim and she was comfortable letting us struggle. I resented it during the time and it wasn’t a great fit then, but now I really value having that opportunity to make mistakes. I learned I didn’t want to work in a lab, that I wanted to learn more about statistics, but honestly left feeling pretty discouraged.

I did two internships at NIH that pushed me hard, one where I had more of a tech role in a chemistry lab, one that had me working on my own project in a neuroscience lab (so cool), and the mentorship I received there left me feeling a whole lot more confident in my abilities to do science. That was also a time when my interest in social justice really began to bloom. Public health became a love after my first class and I decided to pursue graduate education in it, and when I took more courses in epi and biostat during my masters, I fell for it hard and decided to do the PhD. The deeper I dove here in MN, especially at crossroads when things got tough, the more I knew it’s what I want to do.

Thinking about the number of opportunities I’ve had to learn over this decade (whoa, decade), and how I’m just barely now feeling like I have a scientific vocabulary, the more I realize that intellectual pursuits (like any) are lifelong; it takes many years to really develop that skillset. It’s a struggle for me at times to balance using scientific methods to study things with social justice impact, not letting my activism color the way I ask (and answer) the questions I do, yet knowing that I, like everyone, come in with beliefs, experiences, and that NO scientist (no human) can be truly 100% objective. I believe that objectivity is still a goal worth pursuing. That is the good stuff though, and the questions that most fascinate me lately are often the most philosophical.

Where I’m going with this is that I had no idea where I was going when I started, but I’ve spent the last 10 years approaching every opportunity within the framework of a life plan and putting pressure on myself to not only do well, but to have answers for where it’s going to bring me at the age of 50 or 60. Uhhh what?

To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we’re floating through space at 67,000 miles an hour, so what exactly is a life plan?

As I resolve to focus more on the projects I’m working on right now, worry less about having a 30-year plan, and just be open to what will come next, I thought I would share my story. I’m more focused on building skills TODAY that will help me end up where I want tomorrow, without needing tomorrow’s exact details. I am skeptical that I’m the only person I know who struggles with perfectionism, negative self-talk, and being a little bit of an overachieving Type-A nutjob. Let’s have a little more compassion. I’ll start with me.