It feels strange to make what you love doing as a career. You simultaneously want and are obligated to do work. Wanting to do work is sort of constant; your enthusiasm for it never really changes. I liken it to eating my favorite food, eggs. I never really get massive cravings for them, because I never take a break from them. Every Sunday morning, I have to eat them. They are just regular part of diet, something I expect to eat. I can’t say that about most other food stuff. It’s like that with nature and science. I never crave it because I choose to experience it constantly. That’s why I could never go to New York; I could never imagine myself living in a place so devoid of anything ‘natural’ (What natural is is a whole other discussion). I need science, I need nature, I choose to work on my academic studies naturally.
The obligation part, on the other hand, is perpetually fluctuating. Sometimes, you don’t have to get work done — there’s no deadline or not much to do — so you are free to do more, or less, academic work if you like. It’s your choice. When there’s more work, you have to do more. The choice is not yours anymore; it’s been dictated from the outside, usually by someone else. If obligation exceeds want, you begin to dread academic work. That’s why many institutions can ‘exploit’ academics. Our want for the work is so high — and most importantly, consistently high — we will accept many more obligations before complaining and becoming disgruntled.
When there’s work to do and I don’t accomplish much, I become dispirited, dejected, disheartened. That’s why this week was a bit strange. There was a lot of work to do and I accomplished a lot. I was able to secure a good amount of funding for a communicating science conference of which I’m a member of the organizing committee. A paper I have been working on — the first chapter of my dissertation — suddenly became clearer and was no longer much of a weight. Good results for another chapter have come in and the abstract I’m writing for a conference based on those results is almost done. I’ve been able to do a lot.
…And yet, I still feel stressed. Despite all that I’ve accomplished, I am obligated to do more. I still have to get more funding for the conference along with my main responsibility of helping to find speakers and develop workshops. The paper, though clearer, needs a re-write which also means digging through the literature again. Results are in, but computational errors mean a block by block search for and fix those errors. The abstract still has to be finished, and other non-scientific, non-academic problems need to be sorted if I’m to go. Accomplishing a lot means a lot of obligations with more still on the way. Though I have made a significant dent in my work, the obligation remains above the want.