Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Redefining Myself

It seems fitting to ease back into writing after a break of over two weeks - wow, time did fly - by writing a response to FlickaMawa’s question for this month’s Scientiae Carnival, “How have your views of yourself and your career changed over time?”

I could write a book on that.

Ten years ago, I had a completely different career – one that had nothing to do with science. I had been trying to “make it” as a professional dancer and choreographer since I was a very little girl, and I was still making my peace with the decision to listen to my damaged body and waning motivation and move on. I went back to school planning a change of course – I started by taking the science courses I would need to get into a physical therapy program. After all, I had plenty of first-hand experience with PT. At first, I worked hard for the grades. And the grades came. One day I had a chat with one of my professors about my plans, and he told me that, judging from my work in his class, I would likely become bored with physical therapy. He suggested that I aim higher. I started looking into medical school – I thought I’d make a great sports medicine specialist. I discovered that I am fascinated by the kinds of things that gross some people out – surgical tools and how they are used, how the body works and what happens when it goes wrong, rare diseases. In retrospect, I don’t think that’s what he meant, and if it was, he was wrong. I’m not really cut out to be a doctor. But I love science. And so, I have spent the past decade redefining myself as a scientist.

What does that mean, anyway? For one thing, it has meant an incredible amount of “book learning”. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know nearly enough, but every now and then I find myself talking about something that I remember not knowing anything about before. For one instant, I can see how very much I have learned – too bad it doesn’t last! I have also had to purge a lot of annoying little voices from my head. People often assume that artists are not smart – especially dancers, who only need to know how to count up to eight. And I bought that message whole, even as I took AP science and math courses in high school, took apart and rebuilt radios just for fun, and nearly set fire to the kitchen experimenting with invisible inks. I’ve always been into science. I just didn’t see myself as a scientist. I still sort of stutter on the word when people ask me what I do. I’d rather say I’m a graduate student. This is an ongoing process, I guess. Ten years ago, I had no idea what I would look like as a scientist. I couldn’t really fit myself into that box. Instead, I’ve taken up the challenge of creating a different box. It needs to be a pretty big box, since I like to dance around in the lab while doing experiments.

4 comments:

PhysioProf said...

nearly set fire to the kitchen experimenting with invisible inks.

That must have been some serious fucking ink!

This is a wonderfully inspiring post, and I'm glad you're back in the blog saddle!

Abel Pharmboy said...

The more I've gotten around, the more I've learned that the best scientists are creative in other realms: music and the arts, woodworking, antique car restoration, or any other activity that requires curiosity, tinkering, and a sense of awe. Your background probably brings a vitality to your science and creativity far more than unidimensional people. Dance away! (But, yes, be careful with fire, esp in the lab)

I share PP's enthusiasm for having you back. Doing thesis work with children can't be easy, so we all understand when you have to go on radio silence on occasion.

acmegirl said...

Thanks, gents, for the positive comments!
Abel, I really hope that you are right. I certainly use that mantra to help me deal with the inevitable "eh?" response when people find out about my past life...

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