In which I look ahead

Wishing something will not make it real. But its opposite is a very powerful force: if you decide something is out of your reach, it’s never going to happen. I am not ascribing some New-Age prophecy or supernatural barrier here: I simply believe that once you surrender, you start disregarding all the small opportunities that collectively could help you achieve your goal. You become blind to your strengths and sink into the morass of your weaknesses. You begin to believe what is not true, and doubt what actually is.

Spring has come to campus: exotic cherry trees have unfurled rosettes of pink petals; undergraduates are wearing shorts and T-shirts; even the lecturers on industrial action last week couldn’t help smiling on the picket line as they basked in the warm sunshine. The final stage of publishing my paper – the culmination of four years’ work on a massive screening project – has been punctuated by periods of waiting: waiting for a collaborator to finish up and send his loose ends, waiting for co-authors to return their final comments, waiting for my boss to read the manuscript. During these spells, I’ve been preparing for my scheduled lab meeting, using it as an opportunity to set out and present my final exit plan. When I submit the paper in a few days’ time, I want to shoot out of the starting gate at full speed.

Nine months. Long enough to gestate a baby with relative ease, but a very short period in which to concoct a future research plan, assemble preliminary data and write a successful grant or fellowship about it. Nevertheless, this is exactly what I intend to do.

It has been very satisfying, poring over my lab notebooks and extracting useful data. I always save everything and carefully document what I’ve done, so it’s possible to extract new information from old slides, images and even homogenized lysates stored in the freezer. I haven’t initiated a new experiment for months now, but I managed to follow an interesting thread and accumulate enough new evidence to make a convincing case about the way I want to go forward. Yesterday I presented it to the group – despite my new resolve, I was still pleasantly surprised at how positively everyone else reacted to my plan.

It’s not going to be easy, and I still may not succeed. But despite the temptation to stabilize my life by jumping before I’m pushed – and despite a couple of intriguing feelers from employers outside of research – I’ve decided not to blink until the final hour.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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21 Responses to In which I look ahead

  1. good for you! i hope something good comes from this.

  2. Thank you! I won’t know until/unless I try.

  3. cromercrox says:

    Each morning when Crox Minor sets off for school I ask her if she has a nice clean handkerchief with which to surrender. “No”, she says. “That’s the spirit!” I exclaim — “Never surrender!”

    And each afternoon when I leave work I am tempted to shriek at the top of my voice “You may have beaten me this time, but you haven’t seen the last of Dr Chou-En Ginsberg, BA (failed), GOODBYE!” – but I’ve never had the bottle.

  4. rpg says:

    I remember a story about that handkerchief: I think it was a group of Tommies in the unpleasantness around 1914-18. These coves were pinned down, desperate, not a man unharmed, but resolute. A German voice came over the dead ground, offering treatment and safety if they’d but wave a white flag. The Tommies looked at all the previously white handkerchiefs and bandages, all now covered in blood and mud, and laughed. “We knew then it would be all right” is a line I remember from the story–and presumably they extricated themselves in order to tell it.

  5. rpg says:

    PS. Wasn’t it an MA (failed)?

  6. cromercrox says:

    Damn. Now I’ll have to check.

  7. chall says:

    How happy that your collegues had good feedback (as it sounded) and that they looked upon the plan positively!

    As for your beginning of not surrender; it’s good to look for options with an open mind (I know I will have to do that too). All the best!

  8. ricardipus says:



    Those are lovely cells.

    Oh, and Jenny, Jenny, Jenny – “pouring” over my lab notebooks? Oh dear.

  9. You may just have won some sort of award for catching a typo that rpg didn’t! I shall have to fashion some sort of statuette out of laboratory materials.

  10. ricardipus says:

    The same typo appears in a novel I recently read.

    Never mind.

  11. bean-mom says:

    Love it, Jennifer! Good luck on your fellowship application!

    (That’s a wicked phenotype, by the way).

    (And cromercrox and rpg–love the handkerchief stories. No surrender, indeed.)

  12. Oh dear – I’ve notified the publisher, so at least it will be corrected in the third print run.
    p.s. rpg proofed that as well – you now get two statuettes.

  13. Thanks Chall and bean-mom – was half expecting to wake up the next morning and find that the confidence was elusive, but I’m still feeling positive.

  14. rpg says:

    I would like to point out that I was by no means the only proofer. And I don’t think other people who have notified Jenny of tyops saw it either.

  15. cromercrox says:

    It seems that no matter how many times one scrutinises one’s copy, nor how intense one’s scrute, there will always be tyops that get away. This is an example of Newton’s Fifth Law of Motion, which states that no matter how much you waggle it about, one drop always remains on the end.

  16. ricardipus says:

    Sorry for the nitpickiness. Just going with my strengths. 😉

    That said, Henry is bang on. I *hate* reading grant applications that I’ve written, because they *always* have typos in them (and not just ones that I can blame on other people). Darn things become invisible after a while.

    [off-topic – reCAPTCHA wants me to type something with a Greek letter “psi” in it]

  17. Hooray for having plans! Everything always feels so much more manageable when you at least know what the next few steps are. Best of luck with the next nine months!

  18. cromercrox says:

    Ignore the ‘psi’. The ‘psss’ sound is silent, except in ‘pswimming’

  19. ricardipus says:

    Are you taking the psi, Henry?

    [candidate for ‘most obvious blog comment joke 2011’]

  20. Frank says:

    Good on you Jenny and good luck with zour plans. Spring is a wonderful phenomenon, bringing fresh reserves of hope and energy. With a bit of luck I might even feel like vacuuming my staircases at home soon.

  21. cromercrox says:

    ‘zour’? Ar yez vrom Zummerzet?

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