Hope my American friends had a good Labor Day! I had a really nice long weekend that I mostly spent working in my garden. I meant to write more, but the ground was calling me. It felt like the right thing to do. Every hour or so as I weeded or mulched, I’d say to myself, “I really should go work on other things,” but then another voice would say, “Just another hour. I really want to finish this.”
Big thanks to T for helping me dig out a raised bed that a previous tenant had converted to a sandbox (don’t even get me started). It was a small enough box that I decided to use the new space for a compost pile, which got me on the topic of soil, which got me into reading this book, Weedless Gardening, which got me into a nice chat with my horticulturist landlord about manure and where to get it from the horse farm on the hill. If ever there was a moment of “Do What You Love,” then this was one of those weekends that made me question my current career track.
I've been really struggling lately with an urge to go back to school. I can't help it. I wouldn't have stuck around in academia for this long if I weren't a perpetual student at heart, but I have to remind myself that school is not necessarily the answer to every problem.
I foresaw that I would have this issue way back in high school when I read The Bell Jar. I don't know what everyone else got out of that book, but I identified with the narrator's anxiety of being just a talented student with no more promise then that. She struggles to see the next step or her value beyond school, a despair that compounded with mental illness propels her on a path towards suicide (which to be clear, I don’t identify with the suicidal part). The scene I always remember is when she compares herself to the Russian translator; I could so understand that sense of inadequacy. Some people have real skills! And what do I have, an ability to get A's?
I’m having a low phase at work (frustrated with some projects), and it makes me want to start over. Go back to school. Go back to where I seem to belong.
It doesn't help that I've gotten more interested in gardening and horticulture at the same time. I'm from a gardening family and this year is the first time I've been in charge of my own full sized garden (I've always had little gardens whenever I've had some space). I keep catching myself reading up on the subject at work and listening to these awesome gardening podcasts. I daydream in the car about what I'll plant next year. How I'll do it better. And of course I've been spending as much time as I can caring for my plants (trying to nurse my bumper crop of tomatoes past a mystery illness right now).
It doesn't help that NC State, one of the three universities near where we live, has a well-respected Horticulture department that I keep hearing about again and again in my podcasts. Now I have this vague itch to get a Ph.D. in Horticulture, or at least a Masters - which is insane. One Ph.D. in Chemistry should be enough; a Ph.D that I am not entirely sure what to do with. I don't want to work in industry. I don't want to be a professor. I'd like to do lab research for the rest of my life, which suggests maybe I should work at one of the national labs, but I've got a two-body problem that gets in the way of that and frankly, no one gets to work in the lab forever anyway. They move up to middle-management and hate it.
So why would a Ph.D. in Horticulture help me any better? Surely there are even fewer jobs?
Because my brain isn't thinking about what would be good me. It's thinking about what I'd enjoy. I'd like to learn more about gardening and farming, and my instinct is to go back to school to do this because I know I would enjoy it - just like I loved going to back to school for Chemistry. I really do enjoy research, and doing research on plants sounds amazing.
But I must resist! I can't even stomach the idea of going back to a grad student's salary. And I know my husband wouldn't be on board with that either. Plus, there's the fact that what I'd really like to do is publish fiction! But there'll always be a part of me that doubts that I'll ever really be able to support myself, thus the need for day-job decisions.
I hear conflicting advice these days about doing what you love vs. doing what you can tolerate and keeping what you love as a hobby. There seems to be backlash right now against doing what you love (this article makes great, great points), but it’s one thing to espouse practical jobs in theory, it’s another thing entirely to live that life day in and day out. I’m sure many (most?) of you can identify with that.
There's no perfect job, I know that. And school isn't always the best solution. I can learn by doing and reading. But it doesn't change the fact that my funding runs out in one year anyway, so no matter what I need to find another job.
So do I find another one in Chemistry? Do the safe path? But how safe is it really when I can’t even figure out how to transition from a postdoctoral position to something more permanent?
Or do I branch out and see if I can find something really different? Maybe I should talk to my landlord about job options if I’m interested in gardening and horticulture. Or I could take one year to do nothing but write and really push myself to publication, edit science publications on the side for money.
I wish it weren’t so terrifying to choose a path and stick with it.
Do you do what you love?