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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playing hostess in dresden

Daniel was my first and probably only guest during my time here in Dresden. I was so happy to be able to share my new (is it new anymore?) life with someone, and I’m happy that someone was Daniel because we had such a blast during the 5 days he was here!

This is real life--a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

This is real life–a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

Sunday

The first thing we did on Sunday was attend evening Mass at the cathedral, kicking off the list of “I’m so glad I can show this to someone” places! I love going to the Dresden cathedral every week. I think it’s gorgeous. We actually ran into several friends of mine there (which made me look incredibly popular, when in reality that never happens!).

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

Afterwards, we headed up to Neustadt, the hipper part of town north of the river, to get Indian food. There was a great Indian place near town hall that I used to go to embarrassingly frequently before it unexpectedly closed in December, but they have another location up there that I hadn’t been to yet! It was also a great chance to see Neustadt at a glance.

Monday

Monday morning I kicked into “tiger tour guide” mode again as we did a full cycle of Dresden’s baroque center. I felt relatively well-prepared to give a good tour of “my city” by now, and we made it all the way through in about two hours: Kreuzkirche, Altmarkt, Frauenkirche, “Zitronenpress,” Brühlische Terrasse, Hofkirche, Fürstenzug, Zwinger, Semperoper… and if all of that is just nonsense to you, clearly that is a sign that you should have visited me and gotten a tour yourself! [There’s still time, folks! I’m here till July 31!]

It was really fun to show Daniel the beautiful city and also I loved having a reason to be a total tourist, taking photos and everything! We also had a beautiful day, and I don’t think many of my Dresden-Altstadt photos have had a blue sky so far, so that was great.

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With the Frauenkirche and my beloved Lemon Press in the background

Then we took the Straßenbahn a few stops to the Weisse Gasse, a kind of expensive but very… varied group of restaurants, and helped ourselves to Cuban tapas! And ice cream. I had a Spaghettieis in honor of German immersion, of course.

Later that evening, we had an International Mass at the KSG, so I brought Daniel along to meet a few more of my friends. It was great timing because a lot of the Mass was in English due to the special International event. So that was fun. I also had a great reason to skip the usual lecture afterwards because Daniel doesn’t speak German! 😉

During the day on Monday, my camera died, so I don’t have any pictures from the rest of the week! Daniel has them, and he is having problems uploading them for some reason… so I’ll just talk about what we did Tuesday-Friday with hopes of later posting the highlights of the photos.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, I took Daniel on a little tour around the university and then we had some coffee and cake at one of the cafés on campus before my class at 1.  After my class, we took the Straßenbahn about half an hour north to Bühlau, near where I lived with my host family, to see the castles along the Elbe and go hiking in the Dresden Heath. Neither of us had really been hiking since our Colorado trip, so it was fun to have a little urban wilderness excursion. We followed that up with beer and grilled meat at the Biergarten of one of the castles, of course, while enjoying one of the best views of Dresden.

The Frauenkirche, Dresden's famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don't really go with the text at this point)

The Frauenkirche, Dresden’s famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don’t really go with the text at this point)

On our way back, we met Felicitas for ice cream– but none of us ended up being hungry, so instead we went to the Großer Garten, Dresden’s biggest park, for a little walk (and a look at another castle in the middle of the park).

Wednesday

We actually started Wednesday off at the Großer Garten as well, with a lovely lunch picnic! It was a nice, leisurely change of pace compared to the previous two days! We watched the park train go by, had spinning contests, and successfully opened a beer bottle sans bottle opener.

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

We had picked the park as our chill-out picnic location because it is right next to the Volkswagen Gläserne Manufaktur (“transparent factory”), a state-of-the-art factory where VW’s only luxury car is manufactured. Every single VW Phaeton in the world (not sold in the US) is assembled there! My friend and tandem partner has an internship there so she gave me all the information about English tours, and it was actually really interesting! The idea of the factory is to involve customers in the manufacturing process, as everything about the Phaetons (and Bentleys) produced there is entirely customized. It is absolutely fascinating (and FANCY), even for two non-“car people” such as ourselves. This video explains it way better than I could on this little Cliffs Notes version of our week.

Thursday

Thursday, our last full day together, was probably one of the most fun! After my morning class, we rented bikes for the day and went riding along the river. The weather was gorgeous and I love being able to see the city from a new vantage point. On our way “out of town” along the bike path, we saw the famous Canaletto View of the town which was immortalized in many paintings in the 18th century. We rode about 5 kilometers east along the Elbe before stopping to take a little break, watch some people flying kites, and enjoy some brews at a Biergarten before heading back the other way.

Our westward destination was the Pfund Molkerei, the so-called “most beautiful dairy in the world.” Basically, it is a dairy shop that sells cheese and other milk products (and a lot of souvenirs because it’s become a tourist destination), but inside it is absolutely beautiful, decked out with painted tiles from floor to ceiling. No photos are allowed, but Daniel was able to get one… I’ll share it when possible! There is a restaurant upstairs, and we each had a milkshake and we shared a piece of quark cake (like cheesecake but made with quark, a dairy product that I’ve never seen in the States).

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

We passed the cathedral as we biked back through town to the bike rental, and I realized that Thursday adoration was going on! So we stopped by for about half an hour before returning our bikes. That evening, we had dinner at a German restaurant that I actually really liked, despite my German food fatigue. Thanks again, TripAdvisor! I was craving a salad, but Daniel really won with a heaping plate of pork smothered in onions and fried potatoes. And, because we were living large on our last night together… ice cream for dessert!

Friday

Daniel’s bus to Berlin left a little before noon, so we had time to have a nice breakfast together at one of my favorite cafés near campus. Of course I wish he could have stayed longer, but I had such a fabulous week with him and I’m so glad he was able to visit me in my German home. All things considered, this year has worked out wonderfully for us… better than I could have hoped!  We have made so many amazing memories together all throughout Europe.

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Behind us is the Fürstenzug, or “Procession of Princes,” a mosaic mural that shows every prince or elector who has ever ruled in Dresden

We did lots of really fun things while Daniel was in Dresden, but honestly a lot of the best moments were the uneventful ones: making pizza at my apartment and watching 30 Rock episodes while drinking cheap whiskey… or trying to teach him to pronounce German words! It was just the most fun week ever and I’m so glad to have those memories. Pictures of the rest of the week to come soon, I hope!