Tuesday, 13 January 2015

If I could converse with my younger self...

Arrow (My nickname as a 14 year old): Hi 26 year old self!
Vikki: Hi 14 year old self. Is there something on your mind?
Arrow: Yeah...I've been thinking about Scotland and I really miss it. Hey, do you live in Scotland?
Vikki: No, I live in New Zealand. It's like Scotland, but everyone is a bit more cheerful.
Arrow: Really? What are you doing there?
Vikki: A PhD.
Arrow: Awesome! I'm really glad that I'll manage to get that far. I guess I'll get into university after all. But what are you doing your PhD in? At the moment I'm thinking of studying virology or immunology...is it one of those?
Vikki: Nope! Forget those subjects. What do you love more than anything else?
Arrow: Animals!
Vikki: Exactly. Forget humans and their pesky ailments. Go for zoology. It's just animals. Nothing else. Don't waste your time pretending to be interested in curing diseases. And don't listen to people when they say you're too weird or mad or that you should not be so obsessed with animals. You have a passion which you can run with. Enjoy it and don't be embarrassed.
Arrow: So your PhD is in zoology then?
Vikki: Kind of. That's what my degree is in. My PhD is in evolutionary biology. I'm studying spiders.
Arrow: Hmmm...kind of weird, I like birds of prey better.
Vikki: Yeah, you like handling them and training them, right? But they're surprisingly boring at a scientific level, and spiders are much weirder and more interesting.
Arrow: So I'm guessing you're not a falconer then. I was hoping by the time I got to PhD level I'd have a Bonelli's eagle, an Aplomado falcon and a black sparrowhawk.
Vikki: You wanted them for the wrong reasons. I have a New Zealand falcon. They are the best. And yes, I am a falconer, and that isn't going to change any time soon - but it is a hobby, not a career.
Arrow: Falconry is my life though! I live and breathe it. Nothing else comes close!
Vikki: Don't be so ridiculous...one of the best pieces of advice I have been given is that you want to aim at being a scientist who does falconry, not a falconer who does science. You can live off the first, and have a much more interesting life.

*Flash forward six years*

Vikki: Hi 20 year old self. Life sucks for you. I'm here to tell you it will get a hell of a lot better.
Just get out of student halls, and life will start improving.Buzz (20 year old self): Student halls are the worst thing, but I still don't see how I will do a four year degree in this stinking city with no pets or countryside without getting severely depressed.
Vikki: The years will pass quickly, you will get pets throughout your degree, and the city isn't so bad - you get used to it. Plus, your degree becomes quite awesome.
Buzz: I guess that sounds more tolerable. Uni is kind of boring at the moment though. All we seem to learn about are people, plants and oil.
Vikki: Yeah, but work hard and get into next year and you start learning really cool things about different animals, and the people are a lot more fun to be around. Stick it out till third year, and you'll learn how birds fly and kangaroos jump. You'll take a year out and do your own research in New Zealand. Then you get fourth year, which is the most fun year of all.
Buzz: And then what?
Vikki: Then you do a PhD. Life is so much better. You live in a homely house with framed pictures on the walls and a library. You have rabbits, chickens, a falcon, spiders, three fish tanks, and a mealworm culture. You spend all day doing research and getting paid for it.
Buzz: What kind of research?
Vikki: Lab work doing molecular stuff so you can build a phylogeny of trapdoor spiders, a lot of writing, and some DNA analysis. A bit of fieldwork too.
Buzz: Molecular stuff is boring and hard.
Vikki: No it isn't, they just don't teach it particularly well at Glasgow. Stick with it - it makes you feel like a real scientist, and is so fantastically satisfying when it all goes right.

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