today’s nerdy thoughts: the mixed blessing of flexibility

I just got back from my last meeting (or, as it could accurately be called, my fourth meeting) with my main research advisor for the year. I went into the meeting with a bit of resentment, as she did not respond a month ago when I sent her my full rough draft, and a bit of anxiety, as I always dread getting feedback about my writing. But I came out of our conversation with a renewed sense of optimism and opportunity! Here’s why.

For my whole academic career, I’ve always been a bit jealous of the future engineers, businesspeople, etc. who had a very clear path: XYZ classes during college, a summer internship with ABC company, and hopefully a job offer for after graduation. A discrete check-list to fulfill and check off, and a quantifiable plan to follow.

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As a future social scientist/writer/consultant person in a nebulous field, I never had that (especially before but even after I had a clear area of interest). My summer internships and jobs have all been somewhat random and, if a full-time offer ever came from them (which never happened), it wouldn’t result in a job I’d be qualified for or even want to have. But I have been slowly accumulating skills along the way, skills which will hopefully be helpful to me once I am launched on the right path. And I have had, and hope to have in the future, a lot more control over molding these opportunities to fit my interests, lifestyle, and goals.

The way I’ve thought about this year’s research opportunity has been much the same. It would have been much clearer and easier to work in a professor’s lab, do the daily tasks, and write a research report at the end of each week or month. But instead, I had the very nebulous task of creating my own research project, finding sources, conducting interviews, and creating some kind of meaning or result out of it all. While working under the advisement of professors whose focus area isn’t even close to what I’ve been studying. And with the vague idea that my topic (flood management in Dresden) isn’t exactly what I want to do in the long run, anyway.

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So, sometimes it was stressful. But today, after talking with my professor, I was able to see some of the wonderful fruits that will eventually come from creating my own opportunities and taking the road less traveled to my someday career. While this year’s research topic may not be the subject of my life’s work, I chose something important, current, and applicable that almost no one has researched yet. My paper tackles themes that relate to almost any question of environmental or natural research management, whether or not it is related to flooding or Germany at all.

In the more immediate scope of things, it’s possible that I can work with someone at Wisconsin to rework parts of my paper for publication. My professor also threw out the possibility of continuing to work on the topic together! In particular, one thing that my study has always been missing, which I simply couldn’t fit into a 10-month time frame, is raw data from some sort of census or poll of Dresden residents about their flood experiences.

She suggested the idea that she and some of her colleagues could conduct some such poll, and then use that data to expound upon the work I’ve already done. Which is actually really exciting! I had never actually considered that the dinky, self-guided research I’ve been doing could be my “way in” to real academic circles!

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We also discussed the “bigger picture” themes that are included in my research: top-down versus bottom-up decision making in communities, resilience to natural disasters, citizen participation, and hard versus soft implements in natural resource management, all of which are applicable beyond just flood management and in other geographic areas than Germany. So my experience this year has broadened my mind and got me thinking about themes that will be important no matter what I decide to do in the future.

But something my professor also pointed out is that my main interests and experience in my past research tend to skew towards regional comparison, which could lead to some exciting opportunities in the future: learning lessons from researching one area or scenario, and being the person to apply that knowledge to another situation in a practical way. That’s exciting to me.

Thinking about all these things actually got me thinking about a potential writing project I could start in the future! Even though writing has always been my one talent, I have never really been all that inspired to write for anything besides school, or this silly blog I suppose. So it’s weird to say that this is an oddly new prospect.

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I would never be able to consider something as daunting and nebulous as “writing” if I had ever been on a really clear professional track, so in the end, I am very grateful that I have been able to seek out my own opportunities and define my own path, even though it gets messy and frustrating sometimes.

Anyway. Just a sort of wrap-up update about the intellectual side of my experience. Accompanied by some photos from a walk along the Elbe, my main intellectual pursuit during this year!

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seven quick takes…

…which are totally pointless but at least tangentially related to my work/research/productive things, so this can totally count as progress, right?

Basically, boring week = boring post.

1. I became a student member of the International Water Association to attend that conference in Patras, and now I get their magazine every two months, which is pretty cool. The current edition’s cover story is about “Hamburg’s lead on water and energy,” which gives me hope that maybe one day I could live or work at least part-time in Hamburg… because I’d be down with that.

2. Also, I’ve only read about three pages so far, but the frequency with which the “water-energy nexus” has already been discussed is very encouraging, since I’ll be focusing my master’s research on the interconnectedness of water and energy to some extent!

3. I really long for the day when I will actually feel motivated to work. It’s been rough goings here lately, but my report is coming along… even if the pace is glacial. (Geography puns!!!!!!!) My professor even liked my first chapter, and the revisions for that are coming along! However, my day-to-day motivation to actually get to the library, first of all, and then to remain focused when I get there… are… I don’t want to say non-existent…

4. Ok, that was headed in a bad way, so we’ll change gears. People who knew me in college will know that my favorite day of the whole semester was the day when the new course schedules would come out, so I could plan my projected classes for the next semester… color-coded and prioritized into plans A, B, and C, of course. I’ve started the process for my first semester of graduate school, and there wasn’t all that much to decide, but who knows what kind of obstacles I’ll run into when it comes time to register? As I have it drawn up now, I’ll be taking the intro class for my Energy Analysis and Policy certificate, Energy Economics, Benefit Cost Analysis, and Water Resources Institutions and Policies. I know that probably sounds super boring to everyone but me, but I’m pretty jazzed about it!

5. I’m giving a group presentation in my Physical Geography of North America class about water use, demand, and resources in North America/the US! It should be really interesting. We’re starting work this week.  Of course it will all be in German but if I was able to totally make a fool of myself in fluent German this week in class with little to no preparation, I think it will go over nicely with 2ish weeks of prep.

6. One slide in our lecture today was a big map of the transport (train) networks of the US, and all I could think of was playing Ticket to Ride with family and friends… standing on chairs for a full view of the map, crying in the corner due to a missed connection et al. (hehehe.) All the major junctions were the same, but notably Sault Ste. Marie was NOT included. We may never find out what made it important enough to include in the first place…

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire (stealthily passing cards under the table while the parentals aren’t looking notwithstanding)

7. I should really be working on my revisions right now so I’ll bring this post to a premature HALT… if anyone could go ahead and send me some packaged or bottled motivation of some sort… that would be great.

problems viewing the page…?

I’ve had more traffic today and yesterday, I assume because of my new layout and the extra retroactive tagging I did. I’m glad you guys are still with me! I’m trying to write something new soon. However, I was informed by my mother that she was having trouble with content overlap with the new layout (which I really love)… is anyone else having this problem, and with what internet browser, if so? I use Chrome and I’m not having any issues. 

[this is the kind of thing that, were I a fancy blog with my own blog Facebook page or something, wouldn’t require its own post, but… alas.]

2-month inventory

Before I left in September, I posted a few thoughts about what I was packing and why. Now I’ve been here long enough to evaluate whether I made the right choices, and since the only other thing I’m doing right now is translating e-mails into German and reviewing a bunch of articles about risk management, I figured I’d share some thoughts.

I shouldn’t have brought my hairdryer. Electricity configurations are different between the US and Germany, and not only does my hairdryer not really work with my adapters (the plug is too bulky), it uses 125 volts, but German outlets use 250 volts. You can probably tell by the wording of that that I have no idea how any of this works, but what I do know is that when I tried to use my hairdryer, even on the lowest setting, it was crazy powerful and super hot and probably would have melted itself. There is an option to change it to a 250 volt configuration but after months of trying, the switch will not budge. I definitely use a hairdryer on a daily basis, but I would have been better off buying one here (or, as it stands now, borrowing one).

I should have brought Tylenol or Motrin. Obviously these things exist here, but it would have been nice to HAVE the meds when I got a headache/sinus infection/cramps instead of needing to go out and buy them while sick and in pain.

I can’t decide about my shorts. I brought them, but right now that seems to have been useless. Or at least that’s how it feels now considering the temperature has been in the 30s all week and the winter is just only beginning! I’m sure I’ll feel differently come June. 😉

I brought 4 books, which was really nice on the plane and during the many hours I’ve spent on public transit, but now I’m finished with all of them, so they’re just dead weight. If I had been smart, I probably would have bought a Kindle, but I’m still an old-fashioned paper kinda gal.

I’ve been able to borrow German-English dictionaries, sheets and bed linens (thanks to the Brauns), a stopgap ski jacket until mine gets here at Christmas (thanks Aggi), and furniture.

I’m glad I waited to buy winter boots, winter hat/gloves, additional warm sweaters. It’s easier to find such things here rather than in Texas (in August). I’m pleased with my purchases so far!