Greener Grass: Looking back while moving forward

I’m currently sitting in the Memphis airport waiting for my flight back to the east coast.* The past couple weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind experience that left me with a lot of mixed feelings.

Last week was the annual ESA meeting. This year it was held in Sacramento, CA. The conference was really great while the city itself was “eh”. Honestly, the choice of host city usually doesn’t matter as we spend most our time in talks and at bars anyways. I had never been to the city and can now cross it off my list.

Like I said, the conference itself was great. As I proceed through my career I get to meet more and more people in (and out of) my field. Moving from graduate student to (policy) postdoc, I find that more and more people (especially PIs) remember who I am and what I do/have done. That’s really encouraging. Some of these individuals are people that I would like to work with in the future, but regardless, that recognition is really meaningful. I even had a few people say that they were “very familiar with [my] work”. That’s awesome.

It’s becoming less and less of a secret that I want to get back into academia. My current position will mold my future research in ways that never would have been possible without this fellowship. But with that realization also comes the realization that I need to start looking for academic postdocs. Academia is very different from the government in that you need to be on the lookout for opportunities months and months in advance. So at ESA this year, I was always “on”. There are some great people who I would love to work with and I got the opportunity to meet all but one.

My overall experience at ESA was really good. In addition to networking, I got to catch up with former colleagues and some friends and peers that I haven’t seen in years. I broadened the type of talks that I attended and am really happy that I did. I have a couple more conferences planned over the next 6 months and can’t wait to get back out there.

—-

The second half of this trip took me back to Memphis for a research project that began right after I graduated.** Most of my good friends from grad school still live in the city and I had the opportunity to catch up with many of them (you can never see everyone, but I’ll be back in a few months!). The project itself was a lot more work and much less reward than I would have liked, but a bad day(s) in the field beats the best day in the office.

The city itself is going through a lot of change right now, mainly for the better. I grabbed dinner one night with friends in my old neighborhood and was amazed at how much the area had changed in just 7 months. New restaurants and shops, my old apartment building looks completely different, and there is a big push in the city for greenways and microbrews. Do I miss the city? Of course I do. For the longest time I didn’t have great things to say about the city, but that was unfair. It’s a good city with good people and I truly enjoyed my time there.

But this is where the “greener grass” discussion comes into play. I have zero regrets on my currently trajectory. I chose Memphis because of the advisor, research, and facilities. I did pretty well there and would make that decision again in a heartbeat. My current postdoc was my first choice for post-grad school opportunities. D.C. is where I’ve wanted to live since I was an undergrad. Science policy was an option that I chose to pursue and I’m incredibly happy that I did. The Fish and Wildlife Service is a great agency. The people are some of the best I’ve ever worked with and they have made me feel like I was part of the team versus a temporary employee just filling a spot. The friends that I’ve made through the program and in the city have made this transition incredibly easy. I have family and friends in the city and in the region (I travel home to PA a bunch) and am closer with them now than anytime in recent history. So yes, things are good.

I think my main reason for this post was to emphasize that just because you miss the way things were, doesn’t mean that you’re not excited to see where they go. My current situation has taught me a lot about myself. It has showed me not only what I want with my life, but also what I don’t want.*** This post isn’t meant to separate out the people of my life, to show favoritism to those from graduate school, postdoc, or even from my upbringing. Rather, I want to highlight the good things about different parts of my life. Six months from now I will no longer be a Knauss Fellow, a thought that is exciting and frightening. But I know that no matter where I end up, it will be a valuable life lesson and I’ll always have people from my past experiences that will be there for me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

*Two things: 1) Free WiFi!!!, and 2) I waited a few days to post this.

**Great timing, I know. Thank you to the friends who made my stay in Memphis possible.

***Just as I believe that negative results are worth publishing so that researchers know what doesn’t work, so do I believe that every experience we have teaches us about what we want to do, or perhaps more importantly, do not want to do.

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