... name's and locations have been altered to protect the innocent.
Imagining another move in almost a year, I was ready to be self-determined and pursue a position that would blend my research skills, conservation interests and fascination with marine environments. I posted a letter and resume to the water quality and water-borne pathogen laboratory at my new graduate school. The professor was teaching an environment, climate change and public health course and happened to spear-head several research projects including the "bivalve mollusc project," loosely related to pathogen transmission from marine organism consumption. I enrolled in the course and interviewed for the position in her lab. It was thrilling to land an interview and then be offered the position within two weeks of moving to Atlanta. Everything was exciting but familiar and had excellent prospects of training me to be a competent laboratory technician.
A going away party was held for a former graduate student leaving the laboratory for a riskier and more technical virology bio-safety level 3 position at the CDC. The lunch was humbling and bizarro at the same time. A remark from the other end of the table contrasted the reason for the occasion. An academic, unrelated to the person for whom the party was given, was going to the CDC. "He'll be back in a week! The bureucracy is so bad over there!" It seemed like such a strange comment to hear, though truly valid if you're doing any sort of management in a federal level agency. To redirect the attention, one of my sweet friendly new colleague's asked "What's the worst job you've ever had?" The juxtaposition of this independent remark struck me. I shared my story about performing sea-mammal necropsies and having to sort through the intestines/stool to collect the remaining parasites in the carcass. Then finished my soda and snacks.
Training proceeded normally, yet this position didn't feel 'right' any more. I couldn't put my finger on it. I was happy that it involved genetics skills and required agility in a laboratory setting. I fully realized that it involved extracting virus from human clinical trial samples, blood, saliva and feces. However, I was certain that the feces samples were processed into small microbiology sample preservative jars by the patients. Should have asked for clarification. We went to pick-up the samples at the research hospital. Whole turds in a double bagged plastic container. I will emphasize, it was VERY sanitary and professionally done through a leading research hospital. But I was facing my deepest scatological fears of having to weigh and cryogenically store human fecal samples.
Even though this was about 20% or less of the requirements of the position I half laughed/cried at my sister's kitchen table one evening, "I'm a human poo librarian!" To feel so naive and vulnerable only created cathartic embarassment after I had researched, pursued and trained for the position. I liked the people I worked with and even though the head researcher did not actually become involved with my environment and public health coursework, she is an expert in a field that I wanted to explore. I had to face the music that five years away from the laboratory had been harmonizing ever since. I needed to pursue my interests and not the safety of the skills I was comfortable with.
I left the group after our brief relationship on very amiable terms and am now working on the next steps of climate change vulnerability assessment for rural communities. It's through an international NGO that has operated in 122 countries over the course of 150 years. Currently, it is headquartered in downtown Atlanta. The position has a lot of freedom and a lot of unknown's. I will be spending the next several months getting familiar with the culture of this agency and hope to collaborate with other's in the field of climate change vulnerability assessment. Therefore, I am now developing the career in environmental work that has relevance to human health issues that has also been a dream of mine from childhood. That is another story altogether.