There are words that have begun to change meaning for me after spending my days learning statistics. Likelihood. Variance. Uncertainty.
These used to be simple words — words that described the world around me in vague and undefined terms. Now, they are very specific — precise parameters and variables that can be measured and calculated. They have definitions that provide me with quantitative information about what my data looks like. They help me make predictions. They test hypotheses. They are neither simple nor vague.
There are other words that have changed for me too. Qualifiers that help define ourselves in the world and in academia. Earlier this semester, my advisor sat in his office chair across a handmade wooden table, helping me to compartmentalize the hypotheses, and models, and experiments, and field campaigns that I dream up in my sleep but cannot illustrate enough to put into words.
“Well, what would you like to be called at the end?” He asked, “Other than doctor…”
I think of every word I have ever wanted, titled across an office door or under an email signature. Aquatic ecologist. Environmental microbiologist. Microbial community ecologist. Ecosystem ecologist. Computational biologist.
Each is a little bit different, and all would do. There are the simpler ones I would like also. Scientist, woman, thinker, friend. On Sunday mornings, when baby kitten is purring into my ears and all the way into my heart, I want wife and mother. Other days, it is professor only.
I stare back at my advisor without an answer. It is too difficult to pick only one. He hands me back my notebook, scribbled with graphs and equations and variables that mean little to anyone but us, and tells me that I do not need to decide right now.
Today, it is a Tuesday in April, almost one year into my PhD, and I am afraid I am no closer to an answer. Outside, it is dark and rainy like a world recovering. Without class, I sit in my office for the entire day, trying to make sense of the code in front of me that no one may ever see. I write down the things that go wrong and the list is never ending.
Today, it is a Tuesday in April. I call myself Graduate Student. Graduate student, because the work is not going so well. Graduate student because my mind is tired. Graduate student because the sequences will not cluster and the process model does not predict what I thought it might (see previous blog post), and the department’s invited speaker beats me to my only novel idea in a Tuesday seminar. Tomorrow, I’ll try something else.