Imagine the following: You’re a Ph.D. candidate (Well, that shouldn’t be too hard for many of you…), the project you have spent the past 12 months working on seems to produce some interesting results. At a national conference they have recognized and acknowledged this by letting you give a presentation. Then you sign up for a large international conference, THE yearly conference of the field so to speak, and even there you are selected to give a talk. That’s great news! Right?
But wait, you also have a sister. She is a professional snowboarder. She has spent the past 12 years training her (pardon my French) ass off and seems to be getting some interesting results. She’s the straight-A student of the national competition so to speak. And she shows this by winning the national championship in her discipline for 5 years in a row. Then she signs up for international competitions, and this seems to run pretty well. So well indeed that they have selected her… – okay, this is where all resemblances stop I am afraid – to head for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now that is what I would call great news!
Brother and sister seem to be doing pretty well, both pre- paring for their respective moment of fame. Now here is the catch: both their time to shine are scheduled at the exact same moment in time (though certainly not in space). It’s Murphy’s Law put into practice. What to do?!
As you might have guessed, this story is as personal as it gets. My sister went to the Winter Olympics in Russia and yours truly had a talk in San Francisco. But: my sister! An Olympic athlete! Talk about over-classing. I wouldn’t know of any conference that would truly be the scientific equivalent of the Olympic games. Maybe the Fields Medal or a Nobel Prize might be called the Olympic Medal of Science.
That being said, even though her world of sports and my realm of science seem universes apart, there are many parallels between both. Though my day-to-day activities often leave her completely clueless (and vice versa), we do share an enthusiasm that is very similar when it comes to our respective professions. She can spend her day off waxing her snowboards just as easily as I can spend mine writing scripts for my data. In her I see a level of ambition and focus that is not unlike my own. We both experience (cliché, but so true) that achieving great results – if any – is hard, often frustrating, sometimes requiring boring, repetitive work and at times requires just that little bit of luck. What makes our professions stand out from others? We both perceive that what we are doing is not a 9 to 5 job, but a way of life.
So, what will it be? Sochi or Cali? Well, you might have guessed by now where my ticket took me mid-February. Though I might have some mixed feelings, this is definitely her once-in-a-lifetime moment and not mine. Besides that, I’m pretty convinced she would make the trip for me too if I get summoned to Stockholm one day…
Published in the 9th Kavli newsletter of March 2014.