Archive for July, 2014

Of course we researchers complain a lot about the many downsides of our academic life. It is true it is a stressful job, that we all work like hell, late at night, often during the week-ends, that we take few holidays and that we don’t even get the high salaries our level of studies would entitle us to in private companies, nor the even the appreciation of the society to compensate for our all-too-often sacrificed personal lives.

True enough. But as I write these few lines in transit in Tokyo, about to meet four members (or ex-) of our research group for a mightily interesting congress in Australia, while most of the rest of the team is at another meeting in Hawaii, I have to ponder these gloomy thoughts, don’t you think?

Don’t get me wrong, these congresses, however exotic, are no real vacation. As I write this, I haven’t slept in 32 hours, and I probably won’t get much sleep in the next 36 hours either. And very probably I’ll come back a wreck, exhausted by 5 days of scientific interactions in a marvellous foreign city I won’t get to visit, and by the 40+ hours trip back that will be followed straight away by my normal (ie hellish) week of work.

Yet, being a researcher means a lot of positive things, starting with total freedom (at least in my country and institute). I repeat: TOTAL FREEDOM. I can work on whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want. I get paid to answer my own questions, to learn interesting things all my life, to meet brilliant colleagues. And yes, to travel the world. I don’t have to wear a costume to work, to bow to a dictatorial boss, to worry about being late or similar puny things. The sacrifices that I do, I do them willingly, and they are amply compensated by the satisfaction I take from my work and my interactions with my colleagues.

Freedom is arguably the foremost thing humanity seeks throughout the world. It is also perhaps the most important feature of research, and the most appreciated aspect of my profession. I forbid you to say otherwise.

office

My personnal vision of hell

 

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Bleak

As my growing age is inexorably bringing me closer to my death, I think increasingly often about my youth. My joyful youth; and how much better life was than it is now. I also think with sorrow about the people who live now, in such an impoverished world. Think of it: when I was young, the world was so green, and blue, and colourful, and full with odours and insect noises and bird songs. The world was so alive!

There were still at this time enormous beasts roaming wild savannahs and dense forests: bears, lions, tigers, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, bison, gorillas! Imagine! The oceans were full with life, gigantic whales, agile dolphins and terrifying sharks. Orcas, rorquals, narwhals, porpoise, giant turtles, and probably many other species that when extinct before we even discovered them.

When I was young, the air was a delight to breath, with no odours, or only sweet and fragrant ones. No breather needed, even when exhausted or sick, which we rarely were. Not only the air was pure and fresh, the water too. And it was plentiful, and free for all! When I was young, we had so much water and so little regard for it that we took pleasure from soaking in it, for no other purpose than just being immersed. People used so much water. They played in articifial, gigantic pools, they watered their lawn, they washed the pavements of their cities! Everyday! Kids now don’t believe me. That would make us nauseous nowadays.

I am talking of a time before the Water Wars. Before the Climate Diasporas, before the Great Hungers and the ramping diseases that devastated humanity. I am talking of a time before the Eco-Laws, those authoritarian regulations that send to legal death anyone that kills a plant, waste water or do anything against the dying environment, things that your fathers did so plentifully, so shamelessly and so stupidly.

I am talking about a time when there was still time to care, but nobody cared, or so few. When greed moved half and apathy paralyzed the other half, and all went doomed without realising, without listening to the alarm cries, killing the last large beasts and giant trees for profit, even when they knew they were condemning their children. I am talking about a time that was happy nonetheless. Especially compared to now.