Friday, July 26, 2013

A Future in Science: Daydreaming is Free

Why academia would be nice? Here's what I would like to do in the future.

Let the daydreaming start. In a hopefully not very distant future...

I would like to be getting ready with my team for an interesting research project, say about the interaction between surface water waves and corals reefs. For this, it is necessary that we leave the day after tomorrow to Tel-Aviv, Israel, making a stop in our way to our final destination, the Coral Pilars of the Red Sea. 

In the Red Sea, we would measure Stokes drift and turbulence using of course the cutting-edge instruments. My team of motivated scientists of different personalities and or backgrounds provide interesting ideas on how to tackle multiple problems. Some of them are good sensors that know their way with instruments and circuits, some may be theory-driven and others good at scientific computing. Together, we could work towards an interesting goal while we remain open to serendipity and random ideas. We would meet and invite intersting people from other departments in Israel to consider their important ideas to the project. 

Moreover, future collaboration can begin with this - I might have new students in the future that are interested and I could help them do the networking with these people. This would also be good for REUs - Research Experience for Undergraduates since I would know a lot of people to connect students with, so that they are well prepared for interesting careers in research, policy-making or industry.

While the experience was great and we now have lots of data for our questions, one of the collaborators indicated that there are processes that require further study in controlled settings such as the ones a wave flume could provide. Combining observations and lab work, this person reasoned, we would have a bigger picture of how the system works. Due to this, further networking was done and this collaborator will now go to a short stay in Otego, New Zealand, where they have a specialized flume for this purpose. People from there also participate in the final manuscript. 

The opportunity is also nice for a short trip to Beirut, Lebanon, to the HAY Festival 'Imagine the world'. Plenty of debate, interviews and conversations about current topics, from literature and history to science. Of course time also to know about the different cultures, people, food and so on. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Further Thoughts on Quarterlife Crisis

It has been more than one year since I posted here, save from the recent curt diatribe about a critical moment that I happen to be experiencing. However long, the hiatus between my last blog activity and today has been far from uneventful, as it was filled with a series of undaunted adventures, including impromptu trips to the hectic yet welcoming Tijuana, and to the bountiful western coast of the United States. While it is evident that my life has taken a rather interesting course, the excitement for novelty and serendipity did not prevent me from experiencing the quarterlife crisis, the temporary emotional slump faced by twenty-somethings in a quest, either to themselves or to a niche in a seemingly harsh and unwelcoming world.

Skimming through the web for definitions and resources to cope with the widely studied crisis, I was surprised to learn that, reportedly, its most common feature is a feeling of 'unreadiness' to face the numerous challenges the adult life imposes on a daily basis. This is true to some extent, but I do not easily see the divide between the adult and non-adult life, probably because I have been a responsible student with drive and acumen. In any case, I do not see it as an unreadiness to live but as an awkward emotional state described by the question: Is that it? This is why I would change unreadiness for uncertainty, personally. The latter is a contradiction sometimes since I consider myself a strategist that follows a line of vision and purpose. But alas, I cannot help it, uncertainty finds a way home in my brain even when I have devised a nuanced plot of the years to come. I also find that as of late my goals remain clear, but their validity, authenticity and adequacy are constantly called into consideration.

The quarterlife crisis comes to me in form of sudden freak-out moments. First, there is calm and common sense, but suddenly everything crumbles. It is about feeling great and feeling down with great intensity. During long walks on the beach I often feel like I am developing a genuine and authentic vision of my life where everything seems to fall into place. Then the vision gets lost in the crowd and I can't seem to retrieve all the lucid thoughts.

On the other hand, one of the key aspects of the crisis is that we are prone to overemphasize and overestimate the importance of what we currently don't have. This may lead to a tunnel vision that ignores the positive and focuses on what is not present. For example, some people may obsess over the perfect job, the perfect qualifications, the ideal relationship and so on. The truth is that not everything is what it seems... some single people are allowing some time to know themselves before they decide to meet other people, while others have a more experimental approach. People are different and obviously what works for some may not work for others. This makes me think that quite possibly the most important problem of the quarterlife crisis is the feeling of inadequacy. We can readily face it: inadequacy sells: there is always something that you lack, and this is portrayed by society with excessive and unnecessary drama. It seems like when you are twenty something, society (or yourself) expects you to experience a luminous transformation; where you change from a sleepless student that forgets to shave his face during finals to a shrewd professional who makes decent money, buys interesting items, travels often, has a sweet and loving significant other, a stellar job and a family in the agenda.

On a side albeit not completely unrelated topic, I am utterly astounded when I see the number of assumptions and bigoted positions regarding 'what has to be done' in life for it to be 'good', especially when the answer to that imposition is found in local traditions and customs. Such recalcitrant approaches are common in supercilious (and ubiquitous?) individuals who are convinced of the superiority and correctness of their opinions. They are also prejudiced against those who maintain stances that dovetail with different lifestyles and personal philosophies. This is particularly true in my current location, Colombia, a nation that readily inspires in me the hottest diatribes in myriad aspects, but that is material for another dedicated post. One of the aspects that I would like to mention about the country is the assumption that marriage necessarily leads to a number of benefits, core to the development of everybody. So high is the importance bestowed on marriage that it seems preferrable to have a bad, limiting experience to having none at all, even if there was, a priori, a side option that was much kinder. Do not get me wrong at this point -I celebrate when people commit to share with others, granted they are responsible, loving and respectful for such choice. However, this is certainly not the only way to live. Moreover, it should not come as a mystery that early signs of co-dependence in a relationship, whatever kind it is, constitute a red flag of low self esteem, which can be a problem later on. So it seems like marriage itself, as many other endeavors, is not necessarily the golden ticket for life success.

I recall a night out in New York City. I was in a bar, delighted with brand new flavors of beer and entertained with the lounge ambiance. I noticed that besides me there was a couple that, at the first sight, reminded me of Martin and Osa, the adventurous duo of journalists that circumnavigated the world in the early 1900s. This random realization in my head compelled me to break my introverted nature to engage in casual chit chat with them. They were nicer than I expected - they were newlyweds who seemed very happy with each other and I could sense, from the distance, that it worked for them. I sincerely felt that it would be nice to have that kind of company. But then I experienced a different situation in a cab, where its driver in a completely random remark told me that he felt miserable with his wife, and that he found solace again when he returned to his single life, months after the awaited marriage. There are indeed many cases like the exotic couple and the distraught driver, and plenty of cases somewhere in the middle. The truth, in my opinion, is that the quixotic assumption regarding marriage does more harm than good, and exterts an unnecessary pressure in a lot of people. My position at this point is to display a blithe disregard for rituals and spend time on what works for me.

I finish with a small anecdote. As I made reference to the common "The grass is always greener" dichotomy, a friend, who I will refer to as Snake, provided a simple yet valid point to rebuke it: The grass may not always be greener, but there is a place that has the greenest grass. To that I add that the greenest grass may not be literally the 'best' out there, but at least it will surely match with our expectations.    

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Here it is: The Quarterlife Crisis

So here is the famous Quarterlife Crisis, something that I was completely unaware of. But it pretty much came included with my 25 year-old package and oh sweet lord how hard it hits home.