Monday, March 1, 2010

March Scientiae: Continuity (The Illustrated Version)

I wanted to thank everyone up front for all their submissions. We had quite the turn out this month; there were 22 submissions in all. I hope that you all have as much fun reading this carnival as I had putting it together.

I chose this month's theme because it is constantly coming up in my life right now. I am hoping to graduate sometime this year. This has spurred a lot of talk in my lab and in my home about continuity. In the lab it tends to be in the form of sharing my knowledge and skills with Advisor and my fellow grad students. At home it's of the where will we live and what shall I do variety. With this in the forefront of my mind, I decided to make Continuity the theme of this month's Scientiae Carnival. It seems, from most everyone's posts, that we, as scientists, have very little continuity in our lives. However, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.



I want to start with a quote from Brigindo’s post.
To be continuous is to endure.
To be continuous is to hold on.
We all have some continuities in our lives, because we continue to endure, to hold on to our careers and lives. Later in her post we find that her research explores the sameness of daily life. She studies the routines and habits “that become the background for our stories about ourselves.” That sameness is more important than we think.

It’s been pointed out many times that the topic I chose for this month is rather ironic in terms of our lives. I think that Dr. Becca put it best when she wrote:
“My bemusement comes from having to ponder, as a young scientist, the idea of continuity in my life, a task I might compare to asking an accountant to write on the theme of “danger.”"
She’s right that most of us got into this business because we liked the idea of things being discontinuous. Though, she does hope for some continuity… eventually.



While the theme of continuity may be ironic in reference to our lives, Biochem Belle tells us that it’s in line with science. She writes “As scientists, it's something most of us seek each day with every experiment. … Yet I sometimes have trouble identifying continuity in my life.” Maybe this means that science discontinuous with our lives?

However, sometimes it’s the people that provide continuity. Alyssa at Apple Pie and the Universe feels that the people in her life are the constant. That seems to be a running theme in this carnival. Even in times of great uncertainty like the one Wondering Albatross is in (the Job Market) she finds that the people (and the pets) remain constant. She writes, “The pets will always provide entertainment, Grackle will always do something sweet and we will never get as much cleaning done as we plan.”

But what if the people in our lives aren’t constant? Grad students graduate, post-docs move on to other jobs, faculty members may retire. Dr. O shares about the discontinuity of people in her lab and wonders where that leaves her. With all this coming and going it can make friendship difficult. Rocket Scientista discusses how difficult it is to make and keep friends. I don’t think she’s the only person who has ever felt like Cecilia.



In the you learn something new every day category (Ed. Note: It’s new to me.) Life Long Scholar points out that continuity is especially important in geology. Apparently there’s a principal about continuity? However, It’s important in her life, too. She tells us about the things that are continuous in her life: her library, ability to find friends with her interests, and the feeling that of a geology department. It may be true that, while each department is unique, there are certain commonalities to them that make them feel like home.

Sometimes we have to work at and create our own continuity. Patchi at My Middle Years talks about the end of year traditions in her home. Many of those traditions come from her and Dada’s family, but she focuses more on the feelings that she wants to pass on to her children.

Speaking of children, as some of you may know, Science Girl is about to go on maternity leave (you can get in on guessing Baby SG’s birthweight here). In her post she talks about how she struggles with continuing her science with maternity leave looming. Also, she ponders how to make sure that she can pick up her work when she comes back. I’m sure that I speak for all of us when I say that I wish Science Girl the best with the new arrival and for her dissertation!

After thinking about Science Girl’s new baby it made me think of Kylie’s post at
Podblack. In that post she discusses a variety of articles about gender and toys (although, not all the toys are for little people). In one particular bit, she tells of a news story where Dell will be partnering with O.P.I to make Dell notebooks in colors that mach O.P.I.’s nail polish shades.
"Suddenly all I can think of is ‘The Devil Wears Prada”s main character Andrea pointing out that it’s one thing to be proud of how you present yourself as an educated woman on matters of fashion – but quite another to be a stressed-out slave to a Vogue harridan telling you that a ‘little Crisco and a little fishing wire‘ is a necessary ingredient to improving your look."

It’s been a bit of an uphill battle to get women recognized as people even interested in science, too. Ann at Steel Toed Stilettos writes about important women who did not receive any recognition for their contributions. She tells us about women behind the scenes at Disney, who helped get Snow White on the screen and women that programmed ENIAC, a computer that was created to calculate ballistics trajectories during World War II. She ponders if this trend to not recognize women’s accomplishments has changed. She urges us to continue to tell our stories, so others can acknowledge our achievements.

Ann is right to encourage us-- and I think we’re doing that a bit here. Without the community created by female scientists that came before us, it’s difficult for future women scientists to come after us. Pat at Fairer Science confirms this. She tells us that interest and skills alone do not a lady scientist make. She’s right, without guidance, resources, and support (institutional and otherwise), it’s almost impossible to keep girls (Ed. note: And female grad students. And maybe other women scientists?) in science.

Community may be one of the larger factors in whether or not people continue in science. Melissa at Confused at a Higher Level (Ed. note: I love the name!) discusses her community of physicists. She points out that the community needs to recognize that scientists are people who have lives outside of their work.

Continuity isn’t always for the best, though, as Dr. DudeChick tells us. Sometimes the biggest discontinuity may be one that we didn’t want in the first place: not ending up in the career you thought you would. That’s part of what makes this career so intimidating. After all the discontinuities, you may still end up at a different destination. Learning how to deal with that possibility is difficult.

Also, sometimes this career can just get you down, especially when Science isn't working. PhDamnation has an excellent outlook on Science, the PhD process, and life in general. “If you realize every day that all around you has been and will be long before or after you, it kind of changes how you look at things, and how you deal with life on a daily basis.” She also has started a great group-- or un-group-- where she meets with her fellow students to talk science and cheer each other on. I think it’s a wonderful idea and may co-opt it for my group.

Damn Good Technician points out that Science, itself, is a small world. We can change jobs, universities, and positions; however, we can still call the same people to fix our equipment. And, she’s right, that does make it feel a bit more like home.

It’s true that having familiar faces in the mix can help. EcoGeoFemme shares with us a bit about her new post-doc adventure. She’s doing some things are the same as her graduate work, but it sounds like a lot of things are different, too! She’s grateful that she didn’t have to change too many things at once and still gets to interact with some of the same people.


And sometimes we change paths a bit. Stephanie at Stephanie’s Adventures in the Woods seeks continuity between her “old” programmer-self to her “new” coder-self. She uses the term “evolving career” and I think that’s a great way to think about careers. None of us are leaving behind everything when we take the next step, be it to postdoc, faculty, industry, or whatever else we chose. The knowledge, skills, and good habits we have acquired will continue with us.

However, sometimes we have to change, or at least modify, some of our old habits, like Liberal Arts Lady. She writes about how her graduate mindset of saying yes to new collaborators and field opportunities, when she does need to answer her own research questions. But how do we say no to new things when this is one of the reasons we got into science in the first place?

To Jane B these modifications and changes to our old habits, knowledge, and skills may not be a bad things. She fears that continuity could turn into “a rut, and then a tramline and then a straight-jacket.” She’s right. That’s something it can turn into rather easily. And it’s that’s the downside to continuity that I rarely think about when I’m complaining about the constant upheaval in my own life. It’s good to realize that sometimes we need the shake up-- even if we don’t like it.

I’d like to end this carnival with a post by Silver Fox at Looking For Detachment. She explores the meaning of continuity in both her life and her work. She finds little continuity in her life, but geology. As she writes:
""I am a geologist. I was a geologist. I will be a geologist. I will always be a geologist.”
I have been other things, I have done other things, but there is something basic about being a geologist that will stay with me no matter what I might do in the future."
Still, even geology may not always be constant.
"Through my life, [the Sierra Nevada] have always been there. It is, thus, easy for me to extrapolate back in time to think that they have always been there -- and they have been there for a very, very long time, but not forever. It is also easy for me to extrapolate into the future and find no future in which they don't exist."
But, after reading this months submissions, I'm wondering if just maybe the discontinuities make way for even better things.


(All comics come from PhD Comics.)