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laura garvin talk

i think i am in love with dr. laura garwin (pictured above).

i half-heartedly agreed to go to a talk she gave today at school. the biological engineeers here had arranged for dr. garwin to speak about post-doctoral careers outside the sphere of pure research. specifically, she was to talk about her own experiences in scientific editing and research administration.

to be perfectly frank, i anticipated her talk to be a snooze-bucket. my love of loose deadlines, loose dress codes, and occasionally blurting out, “eureka!” has me convinced that i’ll be a lab rat for the rest of my life. i doubted that i’d find a call to paper-pushing even mildly compelling. nevertheless, as things usually go with risky talks, i went anyway to score some free cookies and soda.

lucky me. dr. garwin’s gavethe most enjoyable mentoring talk i’ve heard in years. with a good deal of humility, she quickly chronicled her life: bachelor’s in physics from harvard; rhodes scholarship; phd in earth science from cambridge; top editor at the journal nature; administrative director at harvard’s genome research center.

all very shiny, but what really blew me away was her wonderfully zen approach to life. “don’t fear not knowing what you want to do with your life – i still don’t and i’m 49,” she confessed. a bit cliched, but she did walk the walk (heh, more cliches!) – science editing and research administration were due to serendipitous job openings. and amazingly, dr. garwin professed that she was about to undergo another career change: she was to quit her directing job to … return to cambridge and do a post-bac in trumpet! how cool is that?!

“i’ve always wondered what it’d be like to be a professional musician,” dr. garvin admitted. “so i thought i’d give it a shot.”

of course, that kind of radical life changes are likely to be less challenging given all the money she’s probably saved up from two past successful careers.

nevertheless, to do things as impressive as leading world class scientific journals or research institutes i’m sure takes incredible passion. so to simply disengage one day in the name of the trumpet must mean two things: 1) she really likes the trumpet; 2) she’s not wedded to the ideal that you must become the absolute best at whatever you choose to do. rather, life is about doing the things you love doing.

i really liked that second message. i can already feel grad school’s pressure-cooking influence, encouraging me to bury myself in my work. which really, isn’t that bad of a thing, considering that i love my job and my research. yet, i’d be terribly disappointed if i only did work during grad school, and rarely travelled, made new friends, or even pursued my photography.

so thank you dr. garwin for your perspective, your wisdom, and the free soda and cookies.

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