Barbie goes to math class
So I've had a lot of random thoughts the last few days, but no time to write them down. Today I've had too much caffeine and I'm feeling kind of jumpy. I'm also in the middle of a book I'm really excited about, so to be honest, I just want to go home and finish reading it!
Anyway. About Barbie. Barbie is me. You'll see what I mean.
My boyfriend has been drifting with regards to his career motivation lately, leaning away from his training in biology and more toward his hobbies: the 'harder' sciences, especially math and computer programming. I've been enjoying hearing about what he's learning, mostly because a lot of it verifies things I've intuited, shall we say, from observing networks and complex systems in biology. That's always gratifying. I'd like to think I have absorbed a lot of math over the years, and although I don't explicitly use, or even remember, most of it, it informs the way I understand biology. And we both firmly believe that math and the use of computers are really where the progress in biology is heading: towards looking at whole systems, at least as much as specific proteins.
So in order to try to encourage my boyfriend to get excited about work again, I suggested that he, or we, attend a workshop. I won't say which one(s) we're looking at, but I looked at the schedules today and just gasped. We still have to apply, and there's no guarantee we'll get to go, but part of me is somewhat phobic about a month, or even just a week, of intensive math and computer programming lectures. Every day. All day. Good god!
So I had to stop and think, because I am quite aware that we grow most when we do things we're afraid of doing. How much of this is leftover terror from bad experiences I had in school, particularly from being the only girl in my math classes much of the time? How much of it is that I'm still a bit burned out after so much school, particularly after having a lot of ugly clashes with the administration in grad school? How much is fear of the actual subject, and how much is insecurity on my part, fear of sexism, and fear that I just don't deal well with authority? Am I afraid I actually won't like the subject? Because it's just a gut reaction, I'm having a hard time parsing it out.
I have the strong impression that if we go to one of these things, I can be certain of being one of the only girls in the class. I've had more formal math training than my boyfriend, but I think he has a lot of untapped talent in that area. He's a linear, logical thinker: I'm not. He's also a self-taught programmer, while I'm starting again to try to learn little bits here and there. His latest attempt to get me excited is Ruby, a language I like so far, with a tutorial I like so far, but I haven't spent nearly enough time on it yet.
Again, I have to wonder if it's a low priority for me because I'm afraid I'm not naturally good at it, or because I know it will be a lot of work, or what. Is it just plain fear? Guilt that I'm doing that instead of reading papers?
Anyway I guess I think I should do stuff purely because I'm scared of it, I'm sure I'll learn something no matter what, and those two reasons should be reason enough. Also, I'm trying to do the math of how much time I have to sort out my own career.
Update on the job search:
So, I found out yesterday that one of the schools that rejected me (summarily, actually) decided to look at only senior people, although the original ads didn't read that way. Okay, fine. But I have to wonder how many other places will be doing the same thing: adding requirements after the fact, and wasting my time.
Today I heard from another place that is lagging way behind when they said they would be doing interviews, and they keep assuring me that they're just slow and I'll hear something soon. My advisor says that means that I'm still on the list but that they can't agree on who should be on the short list. Ugh! I'm not sure that's comforting at all!
So here's how the math goes:
Current funding runs out next summer. Don't expect (or want, really) current advisor to pay me after that.
Expect to hear about grant in late spring. Don't actually expect to get it. Won't have time to apply again before current funding runs out.
Not sure about doing other grant applications right now, am not in good frame of mind (or good stage of data) to 'sell' my current stuff.
Expect to hear, one way or another, about job options some time between now and when I find out about the grant.
You'll notice I don't tend to think of math in terms of numbers. Basically we're talking about 7 months, minus a couple of months, before I will really know for sure that I have used up all my long-term options and am left with only short-term ones (e.g., look for another postdoc or.... something).
Right now I'm thinking I might as well use up the last of my fellowship money on something that scares the crap out of me, like one of these workshops. Why not. But it still scares the crap out of me.
Actually, having written all this and re-read it, I think this is another one of those areas where I have to blame my parents. For reasons I won't go into, my parents gave me no end of terror about my grades in math class. I actually think a lot of this fear comes from that.
Rationally, I know that I won't get a grade for this workshop, that even if I did I wouldn't have to tell my parents at age 30 (!), and that it won't matter if I'm the worst one in the class. But on some gut level, I think I will always associate fear of failure at math with fear the fear that goes like this: I'll never be good enough at anything.
That's the association my parents made, and they communicated it quite clearly to me.
Nevermind that I got A's and B's all through school, and easy A's in college calculus. I almost went on to take more, linear algebra and DiffEQ, and constantly wonder if my interests would have been different if I had gone further with it. But somehow the one good year doesn't outweigh a childhood spent in abject terror of bringing home a bad math grade.
Funny how things look different from farther away. The big, scary experiences always seem to dwarf the good ones, for me at least. So maybe I should view this as a chance to try to tip the scales.
Well, there's my timer. For now, my only math is the simple arithmetic of multitasking.