Monday, February 27, 2006

Academia vs Actually Getting a Job

The woes of being a finalist, AKA the complicated affairs of my potential career which has taken over my life for the past few days (or really the past year). I've taken liberties with the chronological order of things as the real order is just mind boggling, really.

1. So since all that fishy watching seemed to be going so well, I thought okay, let's watch fish for the rest of my life, it is pretty good fun, I've been very lucky with my undergrad research efforts and may turn out not to suck at it, people will think I am very clever and it will make my parents happy.
2. I apply for PhD positions at Cambridge and Princeton. Much stress.
3. I GET PhD positions at Cambridge (if funding appears) and Princeton (with funding). Much happiness. On balance, after a lot of faffing, I decide the Princeton PhD is probably a better one.
4. I start to have doubts about whether or not watching fish (or zebras or red winged blackbirds or whatever) is the way to go. What about the real world? I've never really given anything else a go. Ooh, exciting, could actually get a job which might possibly involve some creativity, designs and words (I swear scientific articles aren't really writing in any sense of the way I love it), a real product you can hold in your hands, living in a vibrant city that breathes with things that happen, actually get paid more than a pittance, and generally be a part of the Real World. On the other hand the Real World could suck and I might hate it. The point really is, I don't know which.
5. Exploring the Real World requires taking a year off, knocking on many many doors, getting rejected almost as many times (hopefully only almost!), having the tenacity of... of... a queen termite, but in the end being rewarded by definitely a better understanding of what the Real World and Real Jobs are like, probably a better idea of what I like and don't like, and possibly a newfound passionate interest in making magazines or advertisements or whatever it may be.
6. So, can the PhD wait (to be taken up after a year, or not)?
7. Princeton's blunt answer is no, and also I will lose this funny fellowship thing they have decided to give me, and in doing this I will piss the department off (apparently they can't give it to anyone else so the dept will lose the fellowship money which comes from the university), and possibly bias my chances should I decide to re-apply. I mean, people are human, I don't blame them (much).
8. Cambridge looks (so far) like it will let me defer; also should I decide to go back into academia I could always apply to other universities, of which many excellent ones do exist, I know it in my heart ;)
9. Lots of people tell me I am young, I should take the year off, it leaves my options open
10. Princeton faculty try to persuade me that should I go there I will be brilliantly motivated, I will do a great PhD with a department that they seem to think I will fit very well into, etc. (but of course they do) And I believe them, I don't think it's in any way a bad option, I think it could be the start of a brilliant career - but is it one I want?!
11. I am Confoozled.
12. I decide I am going to talk to as many people as possible about their experience in the non-academic industries I am vaguely interested in -- if it still excites me, perhaps it is worth closing the Princeton door.

There we go. Still generally Confoozled although I would dearly like to be less Confoozled at least within the next few weeks, mainly because being Confoozled is psychologically tiring and takes up a lot of time that could be better spent in trying to pass my final exams, or actually feeding ducks. Any thoughts much appreciated, although the situation only seems to get more complex by the day, and I don't think many of you actually still read this blog ;)

Saturday, February 18, 2006


What do you do on a Saturday evening in when you don't feel like being in the least productive because you've managed to wring an essay out of your braincells over several piously hardworking hours being the sole sad person in the Zoology library? And you feel much better both physically and emotionally after the rollercoaster of the first half of term? And you haven't caught up with most of your friends for aeons? Reach out, of course. But none of them are obligingly online at this moment so I am filling in some of the big gaping holes in this little blog'o'mine.

My dance show was a lovely success but then it is every year; producing it really is simply a matter of making sure it happens, and then in some kind of amazing artistic emergent properties kind of phenomenon it just grows wings and turns into a really exciting and visceral thing which sells all the seats in the theatre towards the end of the 5 night run. Much crazy printing of programmes in the Trinity computer room (which my co-producer and I colonised for several hours over several days) in order to save money. Much dramatic dancery horror in my toe bleeding all over stage (two nights in a row before I clued in and bandaged it to within an inch of its life), although apparently the audience couldn't tell and in true professional fashion I couldn't either till I got down to the dressing room (I caused my stage manager much anguish because her health and safety record needs to be squeaky clean for her satisfaction). Much interesting talk in the dressing rooms viz. whether or not one wears underwear under tights, and whether or not this is disgusting. Some comment on how ubiquitous costume item appears to be "girl boxers" from topshop -- not sure if topshop knows it is a lifesaver for dancers who require big pants to protect their modesty. Much laughter last night when one of our dear dancers simply didn't make it onto stage for a short 40 second interlude; the remaining two of us simply danced it without her in a very bemused "what the fuck?" fashion; and dear E didn't realise till we came downstairs afterwards to find her standing and ready to go on. Many, many, many boxes of chocolates (yet to get through them). And of course bucketloads of beautiful, virtuoso, exciting and original dance.

Photos and

The next few weeks went by in a cloud really and I'm not very sure where they went. I spent two weekends in London with Mum and sisters doing lovely exciting things like having Chinese New Year dinner (general steamboat yumminess), watching Mary Poppins the musical (excellent, I'd recommend it to anyone), and walking the doggie. The weeks in between I tried to do some work and also spent much time stressing about my interview at Princeton, which was this weekend just past. The interview itself (or rather the 6 interviews) went okayish, one can't really tell with all this American friendliness. Got caught in the huge snowstorm -- whilst seeing two feet of snow dumped on unsuspecting Princeton was beautiful (you couldn't actually see the porch steps of my host's house when I left), it wasn't so pleasant for me as I'd just at that point spent over 12 hours in bed feverish, aching and listless and then had to spent almost another 12 hours in the airport (drugged up on Tylenol, alternately reading Brokeback Mountain and Cosmopolitan, just what every sick person needs for the airport really, a short story about gay cowboys and a magazine filled with half naked blokes), and on the plane. It had been parked well away from the terminal building so they had to snowplough it out, resulting in something like 5 hours of delay, followed by another 2 hours while they tried to pump water back into the plane (it'd all been removed for fear of it freezing over), only to find the pump was blocked by ice -- or that is as much as I caught from the apologetic captain while dozing fitfully under my blanket in my little cattle class space as we sat on the runway. At least my illness helped me sleep the entire flight away, but I can't say I was overly impressed by my New England send off!

Far better now, just catching up with work (much more to do this weekend really) and speculating feverishly about what to do if I suddenly go utterly bonkers, decide not to do a PhD and dedicate my little life to the greater pursuit of knowledge about fishies for no pay, and actually join the real world upon graduation (or at least after a few months of gallivanting around watching fish for pleasure). It is quite exciting really because having a degree in Zoology doesn't really point you towards any job alternatives from watching fish, so everything is open. Having once again convinced myself that I simply fail to be interested in the jobs that will make me lots of money (they are mostly about making lots of money, which, strangely enough, doesn't fascinate me), I have been flirting with ideas of perhaps going into science communication (science writing, editing, broadcasting, etc.) -- very much an in thing to do for disillusioned scientists, it sounds so exciting, doesn't it? But I am first waiting to see whether this never before heard of urge to actually get a Real Job is only a temporary insanity or not -- perhaps a PhD offer will come in and I will be back to my geeky world of libraries, endless arcane papers with crazy equations, and little beady eyed fish. I have only had this new craziness start for a few days (spending entire days in Princeton trying to sound like science is my all consuming lifelong passion has had a reverse effect), so don't worry, I haven't done anything drastic -- yet! Will try to keep you updated on where the whims of my fickle mind take me. Back to where the Clever People sit in tearooms discussing the niceties of zebra social society models, my parents will urge me. Ah well.

Being young and full of potential is usually a good thing; when it makes you feel like you could do anything, when it's all exciting, when you could jump off a cliff and never crash. At other times it is frighteningly open and stressful. I suppose it is all a matter of knowing the glass is half full and that it is up to you to fill it -- you might as well go about it with a verve. K observed to me today that it is the next 5 years of our lives that will really be the exciting ones, as we all make decisions and start to carve out our adult spaces (before we all get married have kids and become utterly boring). Tonight I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I'm alive -- barely

Been away for far too long, just thought I would post a couple of lines to let everyone know I'm still around... Got very caught up with the dance show, not doing enough work mainly because mum visited (yay!) so spent a couple of weekends in London, and then the weekend just past flew to New Jersey for an interview. It was a shockingly tiring weekend particularly with some 2 feet of snow resulting in a 7 hour flight delay (in some senses it has been a shockingly tiring month), I am now down with some kind of truly evil flu kind of thing (apparently it is too severe to be just a cold, according to the medical student ;)). Need desperately to get better to I can get my act together and start sorting out my work and last minute PhD funding applications -- but having spent literally all of today in bed (other than dragging myself to a morning lecture) doesn't bode well.

But anyway I shall not wallow in self pity -- off to a dance rehearsal where I will sit and watch because yesterday I made the mistake of actually dancing, which resulted later in a coughing fit that felt rather like I was coughing my insides out (like sea cucumbers!), so it may not be such a good idea really... Here is wishing my immune system perseverance.

I hope you are all well and in far better health than me :)