By Florence Sullivan, MSc
Last week, I attended the Seattle Garden Show with my mom and a friend of hers. We particularly enjoyed the West Seattle Nursery’s entry that was intended to reflect on the idea that “Nothing Lasts, Nothing is Perfect, and Nothing is Finished.” My mom and her friend proceeded to articulate a feeling I think many of us have struggled with. Not quite “imposter syndrome” because the feeling is not limited to your job, it pervades the whole human experience. Rather, we talked about the idea that as a child, you have an impression that adults have everything figured out in life, but as you grow older, you realize that everyone is just muddling along as best they can. The most important take-away for me in listening to two late-middle-age women have this conversation was: the feeling of being unprepared never goes away, but you have to tackle life head on anyways.
When I finally finished my master’s degree, a similar feeling of ‘what do I do now?!’ caught me by surprise. I was fully cognizant of all the hard work I had done, but my mentally and emotionally exhausted brain could no longer compute how this accomplishment translated to real world skills. I could no longer see the whole of my work, I could only stress out about the bits that I felt were weak or could have been done better. I was lost in that insidious trap of thinking that because I felt like I still had so much to learn, that my peers had their lives and their research figured out so much more effectively than my own. Time and distance, counseling, and listening to many conversations like my mom’s, helped me to break away from this trap and remember that “Nothing Lasts [Grad school took 3 years], Nothing is Perfect [My work does not need to be perfect in order to matter], and Nothing is Finished [I will never be done learning]”.
Before I moved away from the lab, I was asked to compile my institutional knowledge into a “How to” guide for new GEMM Lab members. It really does cover a wide range of topics. There are tips about computer log-ons, where to find certain administrative paperwork and when to fill it out, how to make a post on this blog, protocols for photo-ID work and other routine lab tasks, and even some favorite recipes for lab meetings. Setting this guide up was another helpful step on my journey to remember how much I have learned in the last 3 years, and how much I am capable of contributing to a group.
I’m now actively job hunting, and while this has been stressful, it has also been strangely encouraging as I reframe the variety of skills I picked up in grad school and realize just how much is hidden in that new line on my resume. There are so many common application bullet points that I can answer with confidence. Yes! I have teaching and leadership experience because I trained and supervised 3 generations of interns in the gray whale foraging ecology project. Yes! I have data processing and analysis experience through my classwork and my successfully defended thesis. Yes! I have scientific writing experience – one of my thesis chapters has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Wildlife Management. With every Yes! my confidence grows, and I get more excited to start the newest chapter in my life. I recognize that many of my applications will be rejected, because there are many other qualified applicants out there, but I will keep trying, because Nothing lasts [The job search is temporary], Nothing is Perfect [I do not need to be perfect to get the job], and Nothing is Finished [There will always be room for me to grow].
I am incredibly thankful to everyone who supported my journey. My advisor Leigh, has been a fabulous mentor in the best sense of the word from day one. My lab mates Amanda, Rachael, Dawn, Solene, Leila, Erin, Alexa, and Dom have been excellent confidantes, cheerleaders, and sources of inspiration. My husband, Kelly made sure that I always had a cup of tea, a warm meal, and a hug to keep me going. My interns, Sarah, Cricket, Justin, Kelli, Catherine, Cathryn, Maggie, Nathan and Quince made my field work both possible and enjoyable. My family and friends at home kept me grounded even at a distance, and my Corvallis contra dancing community reminds me to dance my cares away, because nothing lasts, nothing is perfect, and nothing is finished.