Laelaps

Looking back on 2008

Two thousand and eight has, to say the least, been a bizarre year for me. As I sit here watching the snow fall on a farm* nestled just outside the sprawl of Target stores and mini-malls in suburban New Jersey, I am not entirely sure how I feel about it.

*[My wife and I are pet-sitting for a friend, a welcome respite from life in our tiny apartment.]

Academically, 2008 has presented many trials. The mathematics courses I took, in particular, crushed my soul and made me miserable. Even the classes I did enjoy did little to mitigate the stress and frustration caused by the rest of my coursework, and the refusal of the university to let me major in evolutionary anthropology certainly did not help matters. At this point, the main reason that I am still in school is that I am too close to being finished to stop.

Indeed, my undergraduate experience has been a generally unpleasant and grueling experience. I have had better luck with science writing. My efforts here on ScienceBlogs have directly resulted in opportunities like being featured on the National Geographic News website, speaking at an Apple Store in New York, delivering a lecture about evolution on Evolution Sunday, one of my posts being featured in the 2nd edition of The Open Laboratory, and speak at the 2nd annual Science Blogging Conference.

My efforts have been well-received enough that I tried my hand at writing at other venues, as well, and this resulted in my first “real” article on spotted hyenas, my first peer-reviewed academic paper (in press), and a job writing for Dinosaur Tracking on the Smithsonian magazine website. I hope to do even more popular science writing in 2009.

Even though I realized some of my personal goals in 2008, I feel like I haven’t done much of anything at all. The chances of me becoming a scientist, or at least entering graduate school anytime soon, have become increasingly slim, nor can I presently make a living as a science writer. Just what 2009 will bring, I have no idea, but I have the feeling that important changes will be in store. I certainly hope that I will have some good news to report!

I know myself well enough to understand that one year from now, I’ll be sitting in front of a computer again, unsatisfied with whatever I may have accomplished in 2009. There are always more things I want to do than things I have actually done. In one respect, this is certainly bad, but it also keeps me working. I may continually be unsatisfied, but it is my hope that I can be happily so.

Comments

  1. #1 Vince
    December 31, 2008

    Brian – After reading this entry, few things come quickly to mind for this retired science teacher.

    First, congratulations on your blog and writing accomplishments.

    Second, something to think about. Do you have experience working with young people? If you did, was it fun? Have you thought about a career teaching science? Your writing skills will be an asset. Also, your frustration as an undergrad can help you understand students with academic difficulties.

    I know that teaching isn’t for everyone, but I can’t help wondering if you’ve given it some thought.

    I enjoyed teaching 7th graders for 33 years, and have often given advice to former students looking at teaching careers. If you wish, feel free to send an e-mail to the above address with any questions.

    I’ve recently written a paper on teaching evolution to middle level students. It may give you a little insight on the middle level science education. I’ll send it as a word attachment to your above e-mail address, as soon as I get a chance.

    Happy New Year – Vince

  2. #2 makita
    January 1, 2009

    Happy New Year Brian. However unhappy you may be with your output this year, you did fill up another year with undergraduate credit and you gave a lot of reader pleasure, as well as yourself the joy of writing. All the best.

  3. #3 Rowan
    January 1, 2009

    i am curious why you can’t become a scientist. is it due to a preponderance for having a post graduate degree in order to be taken seriously? have you consider applying to other universities? surely there are opportunities for post grad studies in evolutionary anthropology at others in this country.

    i do love your writing. i hope that with time and patience you will indeed be able to realise a satisfactory income from your works.

    may the new year bring success and accomplishment in your endeavours!

  4. #4 Melanie
    January 2, 2009

    Make a resolution to do one thing this year that you’ve wanted to do but haven’t. And something fun, not something you’d do anyway, like apply for grad school. That way, at the end of 2009, you can look back and say, I did that one thing that I wanted to do!

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 3, 2009

    The mathematics courses I took, in particular, crushed my soul and made me miserable.

    Sadly, many mathematicians (especially in a heavily research-focused department like the one at Rutgers) will view that as a job well done.

  6. #6 Emma
    January 3, 2009

    A scientist is someone who routinely uses scientific methods to answer his/her questions. Don’t give up because Rutgers is a pain in the ass.

    Your writing is excellent. Continue to pursue it. The ability to explain science to the general population is very needed.
    If you have an inclination to teach science, please consider it seriously.

    I remember banging my head on my dorm room walls all too often. Fortunately, I didn’t do myself any brain damage. For reasons I can’t recall, I gave up on my major in biology (it may have been the physiology course taught as if we were all pre-med). I have regretted that decision more the older I’ve become. I will retire from my government job sometime in ten years. I intend to go back to school before that and finish the biology major, and maybe get an MS, and then teach grade school science.
    I remember academia as an assemblage of bizarre rules and hurdles combined with a few humane professors. Those worthies were the only reason I was able to navigate the academic maze.

    Take heart. Remember why you love biology; the wonder; the astonishment; the intellectual challenges and satisfactions.

    Best wishes for your coming year,
    Emma

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