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Posts Tagged ‘grass is greener’

I’m having a mid-PhD crisis.  All of a sudden, i want to be a farmer.  Instead of immunology, i want to study sustainable agriculture.  I’d rather be playing with dirt than with test tubes.  Should be discovering the mechanisms of T cell priming in the liver, instead i’m working out the mechanisms of composting chicken manure.  Instead of immunizing mice against malaria, i’d like to be inoculating my clover cover crop with mycorrhizal bacteria.  Rather be harvesting runner beans than lymphocytes.  Forget flow cytometry- what about nitrogen cycles?  Publish an article in Nature?  Nah, i’ll just share swiss chard and fresh eggs with my neighbors.

Why?

A yearning for the simple life?  I want to fill my days with tending the garden, walking the dog, cooking meals for family and friends, and watching the chickens from a lawn chair.  I want a cozy house on a sizable chunk of land with good southern exposure.  I want miniature dairy goats and a donkey named Guillome who will let the dog ride around on him. Essentially, i want to be the type of farmer who gets to sit in the sun munching on peas and admiring her garden more often than she worries about making a profit.  But i doubt that type of farmer exists- being a farmer is surely harder than graduate school or a career in biomedical research.   So perhaps i’m just lazy and am suffering from grass is greener on the other side syndrome.

A reaction against scientific experiments on animals?  I am an animal lover through and through- always have been- so why did i think i could complete a PhD project entirely built upon mouse experiments?  Did my passion for saving children in Africa from malaria infection blind me to the fact that i would have to kill a shit-ton of mice during 5 years of grad school?  I’m not ethically opposed to scientific research using animals- many important medical discoveries have come from animal studies.  For many diseases, they are the only way forward in the search for vaccines and therapies.  And though i believe in the importance of my research (finding the mechanisms of protective immunity against liver stage malaria infection in order to inform the design of an effective anti-malaria vaccine), and think it merits using animals more than, say, testing cosmetics or diet pills, it’s getting harder and harder to kill those mice.   My project is the envy of many of my colleagues, and is very academically interesting to me… but i’m losing motivation.  And perhaps this pushes my mind to wander toward greener pastures speckled with free-range chickens, frolicking goats, and rescued doggies.

Or just a change in interests?  It’s hard not to become fascinated by something when you really take a look at it.  And it’s hard not to become engaged and passionate about any issue facing the planet when you really start reading about it.  I know i’m putting myself at risk of sounding like an academic activist d-bag, but it seems like i can’t not become interested and passionate about any subject that crosses my field of vision.  I’ve got nerdy, bleeding-heart liberal ADD.  In elementary school i wanted to become a veterinarian (that shoulda told me i wasn’t cut out for mouse experiments) and since then, my interests have ranged from math and physics to American ethnic studies and civil rights, from infectious disease research to global health to international development, from women’s rights and education to economics to the environmental effects of agriculture.   I wouldn’t mind just being an “armchair expert” in these varied disciplines, except that i get so damned carried away and emotionally invested in every one of them, and each topic is more important and urgent than the last.  At first it was breaking the disease-poverty trap in sub-Saharan Africa, then it was investing in women’s education to spur international development, now it’s learning everything about organic and biodynamic agriculture and getting involved in outreach to help small organic farmers get a foothold and help industrial farmers make the transition to sustainable growing methods.  Each new focus is the key to saving the world… if i could only study it, become an expert in it, teach others, influence policy…

But then, that sounds like a lot of work…  when would i have time to garden?

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