fresh tracks

The rest of the conference was actually pretty cool. Much better than I expected a conference on computational chemistry to be, anyway. I definitely learned a lot. And most of it had nothing to do with any of the talks.

Scientific conferences are pretty interesting in and of themselves. It’s a chance for people to present the results of their latest research, share and exchange ideas, and it’s a great opportunity for the younger folks—PhD students and postdocs like me—to get a feel for what the field is all about.

Plus there’s free food.

But I think the most important thing about scientific conferences, like conferences in any field, probably, is the chance to network. To get your name out there, to make connections, and to discuss possible collaborations. Because science is becoming so specialized that it’s practically impossible to be an expert in everything, and therefore it makes more sense to become very good at one specific thing, and to collaborate with people whose specialties complement yours.

In a way it’s kind of a shame that I’m leaving science, because I’m actually pretty good at the networking part of it. Of course, come to think of it if I were as good at my research as I am at interacting with people and talking about research, I probably wouldn’t be leaving science.

Regardless, it was pretty interesting to interact with some of the Big Guys in the field. One of the things that really struck me was when one of them mentioned that for the most part, scientists don’t do what they do for fame or fortune. They do it because discovering new things about the world we live in and how things work is their hobby.

And that’s just it. I’ve been planning on leaving science because I’m not passionate about it, but you don’t necessarily have to be passionate about it. But at the very least, you have to be, um, hobbiate about it. Is that a word? No? Damn.

But yeah, you do have to have at least some positive feelings about it. There has to be something that compels you to spend the vast majority of your time working on it. Because it’s definitely not for the money.

That’s what gets me. Writing is my hobby. And I could probably be a fairly decent writer if I devoted a serious amount of time to it—just like I’m pretty sure I could be a decent scientist if I really devoted myself to it—but I can’t do both. At least, I can’t do both well. And that’s where I’m at right now. At the moment, I’m just kind of a mediocre writer and a mediocre scientist, but that’s not what I want. I’d like to be as good as possible at either one or the other, and I just do not have the time to do both, so for me writing wins.

Which is why I’m moving to Australia. In six months. I do want to at least finish the project I’m working on right now, and write a good paper on it, because I’d rather leave science on a high note than just sort of wash out.


The actual conference only lasted three days. The last two days consisted of a trip to the “Snow Village”.

The Yabuli Ski Resort is only 200km from Harbin, has 20 runs and 17 lifts, and has the longest ski runs in China. In fact, it’s where the Chinese ski team trains.

Which makes me wonder why we didn’t go there instead.

No, the place we went to was a 7-hour bus ride away, and the “ski hill” only had a single run, with a t-bar lift. By the time we got there it was too late to ski, and we had to leave the next day by noon if we wanted to make it back to Harbin in time to catch the train back to Beijing.

But that didn’t stop us. We got up at 7:00, wolfed down some food, and made it to the base of the hill when it opened at 8:00. I thought I was going to have to babysit the guys I was with who had never skied before, but they actually had a dedicated group of instructors for that. So I was free to go off and hurt myself on my own.

I haven’t skied in 15 years. And even when I did do it regularly I was never particularly good at it. But naturally this didn’t stop me from going straight to the top of the mountain, going down full speed, and trying to hit a jump.

This is the general level of common sense that I have. It’s no wonder I’m not a very good scientist.


About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

2 Responses to fresh tracks

  1. Jessica Johns says:

    Woohoo! I’m excited for you to have time to focus on your writing. You’ll do great!

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