This week, I started the latest phase of my career in science. I took on a Research & Managing position at my old haunt, Indiana University School of Medicine, and literally in the same building where I began my long academic research run of over fifteen years ago.
I feel as old as the ghosts that greet me. Dr. Marshall? Alastair King? Hello, it's me. And, by the way...where are you?
I feel both out of step among this alien race of new scientists and too experienced to be among them at all. Am I so technically far behind these advanced beings that failure awaits? Or, simply, did I just trip and stumble back in time with new things to teach and awe this innocent society?
I fear both.
Familiar protocols, familiar benches...familiar technical problems...yet different hands, different faces... New, fresh, young Millennial faces. Was I not once like them? They don't greet me; not really. They look through me. Indifferent, in fact. Doesn't anyone smile anymore? Or want to shake hands? A greeting is a greeting, I suppose, if only a stare past the ribs, lungs, and spine. Ah, but I now realize my answer. No.
No...I was never really like them.
One fact is obvious: the young scientists of today are smarter than I was at their age. They reap the benefits of discoveries and facts created in my time. They understand the models better -- see them as the rule and not the rule of thumb and taking them to heart, where I had questioned them and tried to prove connectivity where such conduits lay hidden under lack of imagination. Today's young scientists take the most modern classes, digital courses, real time information at their fingertips, and full hands on training; modes of teaching that were rare for me. They have more independence than I ever had, but to be fair, they are asked to do much more than I ever had. They are better equipped and more efficient and plop their N=3 results in pre-labeled, pre-figured, and pre-concluded PowerPoints. More rounded, too; and round is better than a chip on the shoulder of a stubborn square like me. Still, in a way... I had to be new to science, at one time, long ago. Wasn't I once young and smooth porcelain, portraying a scientist doing the work of a scientist, valuable and free to mess it all up and start over again from all the broken, yet perfect little pieces? Start over again...
As old as the ghosts.
So, it's a question of time. I may just be a storyteller of lore. In my day...will always be past tense in reference of their day. Melancholy for sure.
But, who do I have to blame? I left the academic research world; it did not leave me. I had a burnout so deep, that I looked for a career in a risky startup in diagnostics development. And then, when that money dried up, I left for teaching, only to pray several times a day for something beyond teaching to rekindle some fire in me. My last job was a return to science, yet it was a skeptical move on my part, feeling beaten after a long and depressing unemployment period. That new job was industrial in nature and something I liked to distinguish as 'carpeted hallways' from the usual tiled floors of academia. So, I hoped that carpeted hallways would lead the way to a rewarding career.
And it did. And it didn't. And really, that is all I can say.
Carpeted hallways are very different than tiled. Entropy and time flow differently in the realm of the tiled floors and the here and now and promoted carpeted halls of industry. I have already reconfirmed this in my first week at IUSM as I learn the ropes from my courteous and patient mentor who showcased new management tools and old protocols; introduced me to sophomoric students and tenured Investigators; shared with me new do's and old don'ts. Where do I fit in all of this? I honestly do not have one clue. Not one. I am no longer caste in porcelain.
I left the time machine years ago; thought I slammed that rusty door shut for good. I have returned to find my old module, only to discover that someone left the door ajar. Where is this thing going to take me? This scientist made of old flesh, old blood...