Thursday, May 28, 2009

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Chronicles of a Science Policy Fellow
I'm moving on - to what , I don't know yet. Along the way, I've learned some lessons to live by and I thought I'd share.

#1. I'll always be a scientist.
I had just started my policy fellowship when I met Famous Scientific Organization Head. I was stammering, awed that I was in his presence when he asked me what I did. I said
"Well, I used to be a scientist...". He interrupted me and said,
"You'll always be a scientist. You may not be at the bench, but you'll always be a scientist. Never forget that."
He's right. I'll never stop analyzing, asking the how? when? where? why? weighing evidence and in general seeking out answers and information. I'll always be a scientist.

#2. People will surprise you.
People will surprise you- with their kindness, generosity, patience and willingness to help. They will also surprise you by letting you down, disappointing you, being mean and being (seemingly) irrational. For every mentor, superior, person-I-looked-up-to who let me down, I found someone else who helped lift me up. People who (I thought) didn't know or wouldn't care found the time and the energy to be there for me. I will always be grateful for them and now I know that I will keep finding them in unexpected ways and places.

#3. Its okay to not have all the answers.

When I was in high school I wanted to be a zoo-keeper. I love animals and I really wanted to work in conservation. In my senior year, I took a class in genetics and I loved it. I decided to do research and pursue a Masters' in life sciences.

I worked in a lab that summer, in a famous research institute. The lab was looking at the genetic basis of diseases like schizophrenia. I loved being in lab. I still remember the first time I extracted genomic DNA - no fancy kits back then, it was the ole' phenol-chloroform and the glass stick to spool the long, beautiful threads of genomic DNA. I remember calling my Mom from lab, breathless and giddy..." Guess what? I isolated DNA today."

That made me decide to get my PhD.

I worked in a fruit-fly lab researching embryonic development. At that time, all I wanted to do was become an academic researcher. I thought I finally knew the path, the way. I was fairly good at what I did- picking up awards and publications. I loved the work itself, so I thought I was all set.

But, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to the world of policy and advocacy. It took me a long time wrestling with the idea of leaving the bench and the goal of running my own lab, before I finally made peace with it. I decided to do the policy fellowship. It has been an extremely rewarding experience and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

What I'm trying to say is:
It's okay to change your mind.
It's okay to let life happen to you.
You don't have to know exactly what you'll be doing 10-20 years from now. And that's okay too.
So, dear readers, its been fun and I'm sure I'll run into you again in the blogosphere.

FlyGal is stepping down as a regular blogger for New Voices after four months of insightful posts. Her last regular post will appear next Monday. We love hearing her perspective and look forward to seeing her back as a guest blogger in the future.

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