Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Helped my friend Nick move to East Lansing today, as well as meeting with two Michigan State faculty members (one will be Nick's research supervisor for the time being) who may be able to fit me into some interesting future research opportunities. I have to admit that I was envious of Nick for already having an entomology-lab gig; when we brought some of his stuff into his new lab, I kept wondering when I'll have a new lab to move into. Watch this space.

Some of my friends reading this will recall that I spent the 1994-1995 academic year as an entomology graduate student at MSU. I loved the department and had a terrific advisor, but at the time it looked like Rick and I would have to live essentially apart for five to seven years in order for me to complete a degree there; this spurred my transfer back to Western Michigan, where I'd already received my M.S. Given the way things worked out at WMU, though, it was probably the best possible career decision I could have made. I can't imagine now having gotten my Ph.D. anywhere else, nor in any other research topic. I'd had to switch from swallowtail butterflies (and chemical ecology) to solitary wasps (and molecular ecology). But, it turns out that the latter combination was a much better fit for my interests -- and despite having to leave a wonderful advisor, I wound up with a mentor who was, I think, an even better match for my interests and working style. (I still haven't forgotten that I owe my readers an eventual tribute to Dave's mentorship at WMU.)

It was wrenching to leave MSU in 1995, though, even though I knew it was for the best. I'd spent a year of weeknights in Owen Graduate Center, living in a room I called "the nun's cell" and desperate for Friday afternoons, when I could hop back in the Colt and drive home to Rick. (The spring semester was especially tough, because I had Insect Physiology lab on Fridays until 5 PM. Great course; lousy timing.) My first-ever Friday drive home was on September 2, 1994, a date I remember because it was my 38th birthday. I'd spent the day in the lab scrubbing and bleach-sterilizing caterpillar cages; the night was reserved for a nice, dressed-up dinner out with Rick. My drive home today was exactly two weeks short of that first drive's ninth anniversary.

On the way home today, I played my favorite 1980s compilation tape in the car (I also promise an entry about The Tape someday). It's full of songs that I loved from the first time I heard them, but which I never played on the way home from MSU during my year there, because I'd for the most part forgotten all about them during the intervening years (the tape was made only last summer). So, I was experiencing my return to MSU in the context of my later return to some favorite, older music that I had already put aside by the time of that year I spent in East Lansing.

Of course, the disjunction of so much of my life would fill about a hundred blog entries. There have been at least seven complete shakeups of my social circle since my undergrad years; I often feel as though I've had that many separate adult lives, something that's really strange for someone who's lived, after all, in so few different places. Every time I find an old friend on the Internet or at an undergrad class reunion, an old, gaping loop closes, but it also leads to another round of cognitive dissonance. Listening to music I loved in Boston before I met my husband, recorded for me by my husband at home in Kalamazoo, on a car trip home from a place where I spent a year long after the first time period and long before the second? If my brain were a trap-nesting wasp, it would crawl into a hollow twig and hide until morning.

This wasn't actually my first return to the MSU campus since I left in 1995, but it was my longest trip there, and the only one that wasn't related to a highly organized event (like a professional conference or a quiz bowl tournament). I think it was psychologically very helpful that I didn't attempt such a return until after completing my Ph.D. While still disorienting, it was a pleasant and utterly upbeat visit; the only regret I have now is the trivial one that I'm not entitled to wear the bright green academic regalia specially permitted to MSU grads. But, hey, the basic black gown was just as hard-earned, and if I ever have occasion to wear one again, I'm not about to complain just because it isn't my favorite color.

On the lighter side: The Bug House was a lot of fun. Not surprisingly, I got gassed by one of their captive Eleodes; for those of you keeping score at home and including my 2001 and 2002 trips to Arizona, this makes the tally Eleodes 3, Stahlhut 0. It was also impressive to finally see a (pinned) specimen of Dinoponera. I'm trying to imagine some of these monsters raiding a picnic. "Hey, gimme your food." (grab ...chomp ... chomp ...) "Now gimme your beer." (grab ... guzzle ... hiccup ...) "Now gimme your car keys." (grab ... VRRROoooooommmmmm.....) If you're ever in Brazil, keep an eye out on back roads for vehicles driven by large ponerine ants. They might, after all, be drunk.


Post a Comment

<< Home