They, the dispensers of well-meaning knowledge. Attendants of my college graduation party—family, friends, and neighbors. People I’ve come to associate with Home and the places where I grew up. The people who, by virtue of our history together, I trust most.
At said graduation party, I announced that I had made a decision on my first “real world” job. I would move down to Chapel Hill, NC, to begin work as a research technician, and start a new life in a place where I had not one friend, relative or connection. Yes, I was afraid, but I believed it was the best decision for me and my career path, and I wanted to go.
Chapel Hill is one of those cities that everyone has a connection to and an opinion about. Everyone besides me and my immediate family. My particular They, however, all loved it and, being the experts that they were, spared no time in defining what I should expect. First, the fact that I was moving to a completely new area completely alone was declared unimportant. Chapel Hill is, after all, The South. People there are friendly, warm, welcoming. They have parties on plush green lawns, eat smothered barbeque, drink sweet tea, listen to bluegrass and don’t forget those southern gentlemen. I would have no problem meeting people, finding a niche, joining the community. I might even be swept off my feet by an impeccably mannered brown-eyed boy along the way.
Four months later, I still know few people more than my coworkers, who groan when I play country music on the lab speakers. In bars, I dodge glares from the local grungy-but-not-too-grungy “hipsters”, and I know a grand total of two people with genuine southern accents. The misconception that upon my arrival to Chapel Hill I would be invited to tea with the southern belles is largely my fault. First, I should have expected that I wouldn’t find any of the locals in academia. Regardless of the university, it is becoming known to me that an academic career requires travel to wherever vacancies lie. Thus, few faculty and graduate positions are ever filled by locals. It is an effort against what my boss calls “intellectual inbreeding,” that those pursuing academic paths get their training from many different leaders in the field, and thus in many different locations. Other than the fact that it hit ninety degrees in April, and that the air smells of honeysuckle and wisteria as I walk back to my apartment in the late afternoon, I may as well be in any other state, at any other college. My second fault was listening to Them.
While my personal life was supposed to be ripe with good times and noodle salad, They had told me not to expect too much of my professional life. Research technicians are supposed to be the busboys of academia. The ones given the tedious and/or messy maintenance work that no self-respecting graduate student would do. But it is the entryway into the path I believe I want to travel—the dues of entering academia. In return for application-enhancing experience as well as invaluable insight into the fields I may want to pursue my next degree in, I would be required to work long, hard hours, and not to have much contact with my busy, important boss. Personally, I didn’t think I would take to the fruit flies either—the nasty, buzzy things.
Four months later, I still look forward to going in to work every morning. My boss, whom I speak with everyday, actively promotes my development as a scientist. I work independently, and make decisions on how to carry out my own projects. I am challenged, engaged and appreciated. To top it all off, I work in a setting where the irresistible thrill of the quest for knowledge runs in the drinking water. And the flies? If my brain were capable, I would give each and every one a name (there are thousands).
So apparently you really can’t trust anyone nowadays, especially those that want the best for you. Luckily, for my sanity and the relationships I hold with Them, I made the decision to pack up and head south before that party. And, if I’m being honest, the only things that I could have reasonably expected to find I have—independence, a fresh start, and a new horizon.