Crack.

I am reading Beth Buelow’s e-book Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert and ran across this quote in chapter 16 talking about vulnerability:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”- Leonard Cohen

I have also been thinking a bit about how science is like crack, the addictive drug. Both ideas- of a crack letting light in or out to connect an individual to the world and the drug have been floating in my head lately.

With this blog, part of the idea was to let the light out, to be vulnerable and express what’s going on inside. It is still terrifying to me to post sometimes- I worry that what I express will come back to bite me, but then I also know that it’s hard to make progress from a standpoint of perfectionism.

So with that, I’m going to open up a bit about my addiction to science (I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, either) and how I think it may well be negatively impacting my life and what I am trying to do about it, finally, though I still feel stuck in some ways and am not sure how to get moving forward again.

Current scientists almost always fall in love with science when they’re young. And in my generation, anyhow, I got convinced I had to be perfect in everything and never show that I was struggling in any way. That’s when ‘they’ pounce (sometimes ‘they’ were very real, mostly, I think it was in my head). So perfectionist kid falls in love with science and what I picked up on in the culture of science is that if you are not 100% devoted to it, you’re not a ‘real scientist’- you don’t care enough. I spent grad school being as devoted as I could to work, even when it was apparent that I was burning out and depression was setting in, I coped by exercising more regularly and seeing a therapist (This is an excellent piece on what it’s like: Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s by design. We depressives simply spirit ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to stain those who live in the sun.”)- I cut myself off from people, something I’m trying to get over now, but still struggle with.

All the while, I was continually devoted to trying to make a career in science. I am now in my 5th year as a postdoc and see slight positive signs that I’m moving forward, but I look at my friends (scientist and non-scientist alike) who have kids, houses, are married and established in lives and compared to me. I’m single, now 35 and would like to have a life outside the lab and a career that I can actually put down at the end of the day and not have to think about constantly. But then I feel stuck. I have a Ph.D., but still can’t figure out what else I would do in the world, besides be an academic- and my depressive side says maybe I can’t even be that or anything- but I feel like I need to test the waters some how, devote myself to something else, get off the crack that is science. It may be good for the human race (science, as a process unarguably has been a boon to us humans), but I reject the notion that it has to be done by people who don’t have lives (Sorry Mr. Tesla, I know I’m not as smart as you were, but I don’t feel that a relationship would be bad for my career). Even in an era when it is clear there are not full time academic jobs for every postdoc out there (academia is a minority employer of Ph.D.’s now), the culture is still very much ‘if you leave, you have failed as a human being and are dead to us’. So if I left, it’s hard to not feel like I’ve wasted my 20’s and half of my 30’s- it would be a blow to my ego, for sure. I wish it was a bit more positive than that, that anyone who is trained at a high level as a scientist is celebrated no matter where they end up. That it isn’t insane to think that someone would make a decision for personal reasons rather than purely professional ones. The biggest problem of that mindset is that we’re not trained to do broad careers, we’re trained to do one specific thing and forget about the rest of the world. So in that sense, science is addictive, like crack. I love the discoveries, the process, the problem-solving, the mental effort it requires, but it feels very confining, not expansive- as science usually is- expanding knowledge built up by previous generations.

Part of my Ian3.0 project I started this month is to make a major life transition. Into a new job in a new place, having healthy social relationships where I see people regularly (with friends, hopefully finding a significant other as well- I want that). I am finally taking control of my own life in a way I haven’t before. I still feel fairly stuck, but at least more light is shining through the cracks that were my shell against the outside world, and I’m trying to be more open- to new things, to novelty, to actually shining.    I am working on the specific details, but hopefully, when I’m writing next year, I’ll be in an even happier place than I am now. Believe it or not, this is more positive than I was even a year ago. I don’t know if this is coherent, but there’s a little more light I’m letting out of my shell.

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Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

5 thoughts on “Crack.”

  1. I concur! One of the troubles is that once you train for something so specific for so long you feel stuck with that as a career path whether you're still interested or not. I try very hard to think of other things I could do or I am good at that are irrelevant to my degree, like being a small business owner related to something I'm passionate about (art, baking etc.). I don't believe I'll switch careers any time soon but it gives me something else to believe in and be excited about in times when I feel like I'm failing at science.

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