dancinguniverse: (genius)
[personal profile] dancinguniverse

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want out of my job. The good way to look at my job is that I'm paid a liveable stipend to conduct my own research, while my education is being paid for. I'm expected to go to school part-time and work part-time. The reality is that I get paid a crappy salary to work full time and go to school in the evenings, and my work is sitting at a computer all day, every day, with no human interaction. 

I look at what my current adviser does at NASA, or what my professors do in the course of their jobs, and I think I would like that a lot better than doing my current job. So I think a lot of that frustration is temporary. On the other hand, it bugs me how far off those days are. The rest of grad school, plus a post-doc or two, before I can get there. And even when I do, I want to move back to the mid-west, and there are only so many options for that in astronomy. There's a woman named Maggie Turnbull who just up and started her own institute for astronomy, science education, and conservation in Northern Wisconsin. She's sort of my idol in that regard, and I have this vague dream of calling her up when I graduate and trying to work with her. Actually that's dream number 2. Dream number 1 is still to work at my undergrad. No, dream 1 is to become an astronaut. Then those other two. But I digress. 

I think Maggie is especially cool because her institute isn't just for astronomy, though that's the main reason she created it, as far as I can tell. I love astronomy. Watching the Curiosity landing live the other week was one of the coolest things I've seen... probably since I saw the last shuttle launch last year. I love that so much, and the idea of letting other people figure out whether there's life on other planets while I'm off doing something else is maddening. I don't need to be the one who discovers it for my life to have meaning, but I do want to be part of the broader effort. 

But at the same time, I just keep thinking that I could be doing something more meaningful. So I'm trying to get into outreach more. I already talked to the guys at my school who run the open observatory night. Just talking to kids about space, showing them Saturn and Jupiter through a telescope... that's a start. It never gets old, seeing people age 14 or 40 see Saturn and flat out not believe it to be real, because it's just that cool. I love sharing that with people! And on a personal level, I can't wait to get back to actually running a telescope, even and especially the little one on campus, and getting time to do very little projects all on my own. 

I'm thinking more and more about doing outreach and education, or even policy work, instead of or in addition to research, as a career. It's been a decision coming hand in hand with why I think I'm frustrated with my job right now - I'd rather be talking to people about my research than doing it. It's not like I hate research (though we're definitely mired lately, which is not helping). It's just not what I want to be doing all the time. And honestly, I'm not extroverted enough that I'd want to be talking to people all the time either. If I were doing that nonstop, I'd be grateful for a chance to sit quietly and reduce some data, I know. I just need some balance in my life. And I realized that there's no need to wait until I have my adviser's job to start acting more like my adviser. I can give more talks, do more outreach, right now. At least, that's what I'm now telling myself. 

So that's my plan for the new schoolyear. I'm going to try to make a few changes in my life. I'm moving closer to work, which I hope will make me less lazy. It's easier to stay later at work when I'm not also staring down the barrel of a traffic-clogged commute home. It's also easier to drop in for clubs and meetings I might otherwise skip when they're five minutes from home instead of 35 or 45 minutes. I'll be that much closer to school as well, which should help me stop feeling like such an outsider in my own department, and let me join in on things like observing nights and weekend hiking trips (though I will probably still skip the happy hours, since I won't be that close to school, and by its nature happy hour is right around rush hour, and therefore not worth driving to). 

I'm already signed up to give a talk this semester at work, and I have two soft invitations for different colloquia at school that I can make happen, if we can make our schedules agree. Between those and observing nights, I think I'm well on my way to fixing some of my own problems. I do also want to talk to my boss and see if I can start doing anything else, like school visits or blogging, since I know NASA's outreach program does both of those things. 

On a personal note, but in the same vein, I'd like to get back into swing dancing. When we move, I'll be close enough to the city to make the drive worth it. Dancing happens the same night as my class this semester, but starting in January, I should be free. And I want to start writing more. Whether that's here, starting an astronomy blog (which I'm considering), and/or picking up fiction again, I just want to be writing something. It's been way too long. And lastly, I want to start volunteering more. In high school, I did all kinds of volunteering. In college, I did Habitat for Humanity builds once or twice, and then I worked for a gay rights org as my student employment. But since then... nothing. I tried volunteering at the humane society, but then just stopped. So back to basics. I want to start volunteering at a soup kitchen or a shelter or a transition center, something. 

So that's the plan guys. New year's resolutions for the new academic year! And if you can, help me stick to them. 

Two links before I go! First, the engineers for Curiosity did an AMA on reddit. They're all awesome, and you should check it out if you're remotely interested. 

Second, this vid about starships is awesome. I love fandom so much. 

Date: 2012-08-19 07:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jmsilvercat.livejournal.com
I have to say that once I hit the point where I could actually give talks about my own work, I felt a lot better about where I was, and it made me realize that I had actually learned quite a bit about astronomy since starting. It was also a good learning experience in that I do actually really like putting talks together.

So I hope that starting to give talks and doing more science outreach winds up being fulfilling for you! You'll have to keep me posted on how it's going.


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