Saturday, March 07, 2009

Priorities

I remember seeing a SeriouslyBigDeal Professor at a conference when I was in grad school. I was a bit awestruck, frankly, that a person who had been so important to the field was just walking around. How cool would it be, I thought wistfully, to study with someone like that. Instant name recognition and immediate respect - that must be a wonderful feeling.

As good as I was at research - and I honestly wasn't terrible - I was never going to matter on any grand scale. I'm not particularly brilliant - I understand science, but it fails to spark that need to delve deeper and know more. I was bored a lot of the time - forcing myself to read through poorly-written papers and debugging lines of code until my head ached. Publishing was hard, requiring many iterations before I could adequately define my objectives and communicate my results. And - if confession is my goal here - I didn't like being unappreciated. I wanted people to ask my opinion. I wanted to matter.

My attention to this blog sprung, at least in part, from that desire. I wanted someone to care enough to read what I thought. I needed a community of people who saw me - noted that I had ideas and amusing insights and painful stories. I felt some sort of desperation to record text daily to indicate I did something. That I was here and if I were to go away, there would be something left when I moved on to whatever is next. That I chose to fill those needs in such an ephemeral space - to make my mark through words that could disappear if Google decides to take them and to be seen by people I'd never meet - is interesting, but it changes nothing of the human desire behind my actions.

As I returned from my last trip, physically exhausted and at my emotional limit, I realized that those needs are now being met in other ways. When I sit down across from those men I admired at conferences, when we make decisions that could result in changing health care for given populations, when my questions are answered and people know who I am and what I think - I matter, if only in my own mind. And despite how furious or heartbroken I become over given situations, I finally feel like I have the power to make a difference. And whether we launch products that can be used to treat depression or diagnose liver disease or detect cancer earlier, we're talking about global distribution and millions of people who see the results of what we do.

The magnitude of that is a bit terrifying to me - I'm daunted by the task before us and continue to be slightly surprised they're letting me do this. It's not for everyone, obviously. Despite an impressive salary and benefits package, I'm willing to bet that very few of you envy my professional position. And that's fair - I've traded creativity for power, freedom for leadership. Having never been good at teaching, I imagine my feeling when we release prototypes or launch products is a little like knowing you've changed the way someone understands biology or physics or how if/else loops function. But this is something I can do - rally the troops, argue passionately, organize time lines, hold meetings - and I am immensely proud of it.

When I come home and kick off shoes I've worn for 12 hours and snuggle into pajamas before skimming the blogs I've always read, I often don't have energy to write a blog post. But there are times when I do have a bit left. And I often change computers and answer work email, revise upcoming presentations, make sure items are captured on my 'to do' spreadsheet. Because that - in part - is where I find meaning.

Even having written that, I acknowledge that I miss it here. I used to compose posts in my head nearly constantly, wanting badly to entertain someone. I don't do that as much now as most available resources are being used to multi-task as I run an experiment, talk on the phone, answer email and review data simultaneously. Perhaps circumstances will shift and the blog will emerge nearer the top of my priority list. But for now, I'll soothe myself with writing when I can and hoping someone is still reading when that happens.

6 comments:

Propter Doc said...

It just isn't high on the priority list for me either. I come home at night too tired to string thoughts together into a blog post. When I've written a couple of thousand words for a funding app, lecture notes, other writing jobs, I just can't do it. And I know that I've got lots of travel coming up over the next few months as well.

Ah well, we write what we can and when. That's the great thing about RSS - as long as I still subscribe to you, I get your posts whenever you can find the energy to write!

Psycgirl said...

I agree with Propter Doc. I too have days where my energy goes elsewhere, and I don't spend time updating my blog, as much as I used to. When I started my blog it served an entirely different purpose for me than it is serving now, so I think it's use changes over time. I still love reading your posts whenever you do get a chance.

And I actually am somewhat jealous of your professional position, especially as I near the end of my PhD training and wonder what to do with it...

JaneB said...

Still reading! And I haven't yet reached that point with my own space but I know it will come - and, just as when a friend has a busy spell and you don't hear from them for a while - I hope I'll be missed a little, and know I'll be welcomed back when I am in the mood again.

The bean-mom said...

You know, my initial needs for blogging have also changed over these past few months...I'm glad to hear you're feeling listened to and powerful out there in the Real World. Your blog is still here when you need it, and we're still hear to listen when you have something to say. I've seen these blogging ebbs and flows with others in the blogosphere... Completely normal, I think. As others mentioned, thank goodness for RSS feeds!

Jenn, PhD said...

I'm still reading Katie! I love your blog and smile when I see there's a new post from you... but also understand that blogging needs and reasons change with time. It's great that you're feeling more appreciated in real life!

and like Psycgirl, I'm also a bit envious of your position... I'm not really sure I want to do academic research anymore, and you give me hope that there is something else out there!

JustMe said...

i'm still here. though you know i read you in binges ;o) and yah, i hear you on the being too tired once i get home...

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