Whale comeback

Abstract

Last month I came across a folder of papers I had written at the age of 16 for my high school English class. This occasion, in some ways like Proust’s madeleine, triggered recollections of how I, as a 16 year-old, framed the thoughts I had about what I wanted to do with my life. One of those early papers was about Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. I remember not terribly liking the poem. But the image of paths leading off in different directions in the woods, leading to different futures stayed with me. At 16, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, write poems, be a journalist, run my father’s business, or be a scientist. I found the plethora of choices bewildering, as I searched for clues to what my ‘optimal path’ should be. I worried how I would ever know what the ‘best’ decision would be. And, I had a palpable sense of loss for all of those unchosen futures. Then it dawned on me that there was no sense in thinking about ‘optimal paths’ or loss when giving up the alternatives. Instead, all one could do was choose one future and live it, as there were many possible futures that could lead to adventure and meaning, and it just mattered that the chosen path was a good one. When I started as an undergraduate I was going to be a lawyer, but I ended up a scientist. I made careerdetermining decisions without looking at the long future, but always asking myself, “Does this make sense to do now?” So I studied biology as an undergraduate, and I applied to graduate school. I went to Paris for a postdoc because I was angry at the US for Vietnam and was curious to see how JacSue Kehoe could do such elegant work and raise children. Did I stubbornly continue this path called academic science? Yes. Could I have been derailed or drawn into a different path by different circumstances? Almost certainly. Today, as a senior woman scientist and President of the Society for Neuroscience, I am aware that many of our most talented students opt to follow careers other than science. I wouldn’t feel badly about the student talented My Word Magazine R725

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.08.027

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Cite this paper

@article{Williams2008WhaleC, title={Whale comeback}, author={Nigel Williams}, journal={Current Biology}, year={2008}, volume={18} }